A Clovis man who federal prosecutors say conspired with Fresno’s former Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster to sell heroin was sentenced Tuesday to 40 months in prison.
In accepting his punishment, Rafael Guzman Jr. said in U.S. District Court: “I apologize to the court for my actions and take full responsibility.”
Guzman is one of three defendants who have accepted plea deals in a widespread drug-trafficking ring but the first whose plea deal links Foster to the crime. Foster resigned from the Fresno Police Department after his arrest in March 2015.
Foster has denied taking part in any drug dealing and has pleaded not guilty to the allegations. His trial, and that of three other defendants, is scheduled to begin in May 2017.
Guzman pleaded guilty in May 2016 to conspiracy to distribute and/or possess with intent to distribute heroin. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed two felony drug charges against him. He also doesn’t have to testify against Foster or the other defendants.
Prosecutors say the evidence against Guzman and the other defendants largely comes from wiretaps.
According to his plea agreement, Guzman agreed with federal prosecutors that on Dec. 24, 2014, Foster contacted him “to acquire heroin on behalf of a third party.” Guzman then asked Foster what quality of heroin he wanted to purchase.
“The very best,” Foster said, according to Guzman’s plea agreement.
Rafael Guzman Jr. is the first to implicate former Fresno Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster in a widespread drug-trafficking ring.
Guzman accepted the plea deal because he faced up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if he had been convicted of the charges at trial, the plea agreement says.
Fresno defense attorney Sal Sciandra said in court Tuesday that Guzman also took the plea deal because he has drug charges pending in Fresno County Superior Court. State and federal prosecutors have agreed to run any prison sentence he receives in Superior Court with his federal prison sentence, Sciandra said.
Judge Anthony Ishii could have sentenced Guzman to up to 57 months in prison, but gave him 40 months because Guzman, who has been free on bail, has stayed out of trouble since his arrest in April 2015 and has completed a yearlong, court-approved program that teaches criminals how to become productive members of society. “It’s gratifying to the court that individuals like yourself take advantage of the program,” Ishii said.
It’s unclear how much heroin Guzman had planned to sell Foster, but the plea agreement says Guzman’s relevant conduct for sentencing purposes included 2 ounces of heroin, 1 ounce of methamphetamine and 1 ounce of cocaine.
Rafael Guzman Jr. will remain free until Jan. 23 so he can see his daughter leave home for the Navy.
Ishii said he will recommend a prison for Guzman that has drug-treatment programs. The judge also allowed Guzman to remain free until Jan. 23 so he could see his daughter leave home for the Navy.
Once he has completed his prison sentence, Guzman will be on three years of probation, which will include random drug testing. He also must do 20 hours a week of community service until he gets a full-time job, stay away from gangs, and not own a cellphone unless he has permission from his probation officer.
A federal indictment, unsealed April 9, 2015, charges Foster, the former No. 2 man behind Police Chief Jerry Dyer, with participating in three separate conspiracies to distribute different controlled substances.
Foster is charged with conspiring with co-defendant Randy Flowers to distribute oxycodone, a prescription painkiller that is addictive. The 13-page indictment also charged Foster and Guzman with conspiring to distribute heroin. In a third alleged conspiracy, Foster is charged with conspiring with Ricky Reynolds, Jennifer Donabedian, Sarah Ybarra and Denny Foster to distribute marijuana. Flowers and Denny Foster are Keith Foster’s nephews. Donabedian is Denny Foster’s girlfriend. Ybarra is friends with Donabedian and Denny Foster.
In November 2015, Ybarra was sentenced to a year in prison for mailing several pounds of marijuana through a package delivery company. Donabedian pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge that says she knew Denny Foster was a major marijuana dealer, assisted in his illegal operation, and failed to tell authorities about it, her plea agreement says. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12.