Fresno’s former deputy police chief Keith Foster offered plea deal in drug-dealing case

Fresno mayor, police chief speak about arrest of Deputy Chief Keith Foster

On March 27, 2015, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, police Chief Jerry Dyer and City Manager Bruce Rudd led a news conference to address the arrest of Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster on federal drug charges.
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On March 27, 2015, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, police Chief Jerry Dyer and City Manager Bruce Rudd led a news conference to address the arrest of Deputy Police Chief Keith Foster on federal drug charges.

Federal prosecutors are offering plea deals to former Fresno police Deputy Chief Keith Foster and five others indicted on drug-trafficking charges, a document filed in U.S. District Court reveals.

So far, plea offers have been made to defendants Ricky Reynolds, Randy Flowers and Rafael Guzman. Plea offers to Keith Foster, Dennis Foster and Jennifer Donabedian will be finalized by Friday, the document says.

Another defendant in the case, Sarah Ybarra, has already accepted a plea deal. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and/or possess marijuana and was sentenced to prison.

Keith Foster was the No. 2 official in the Fresno Police Department behind Police Chief Jerry Dyer until his arrest a year ago on charges of participating in three separate conspiracies to distribute oxycodone, marijuana and heroin.

His attorney, Marshall Hodgkins, said Wednesday that he has received the plea offer from prosecutors and it includes prison time for Foster. Hodgkins was reluctant to talk about the offer because he has not discussed it in detail with Foster. But Foster is likely to reject it, Hodgkins said.

Lawyers for the other defendants declined to talk about the offers because they are in negotiations with prosecutors. But they did say that if their clients don’t accept the plea offers, they plan to set a trial date at the next status hearing in June.

A federal indictment, unsealed April 9, 2015, charges Keith Foster with conspiring with Flowers to distribute oxycodone. They are charged individually in four separate counts to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone, a prescription painkiller that is addictive. Flowers is further charged with being a felon in possession of three firearms. Flowers is Foster’s nephew.

The 13-page indictment charges Keith Foster and Guzman with conspiring to distribute heroin. Keith Foster also is charged with conspiring with Reynolds, Donabedian and Denny Foster to distribute marijuana. Denny Foster is another nephew of Keith Foster.

Reynolds is separately charged with manufacturing marijuana, and both Reynolds and Denny Foster are charged individually in various counts alleging distribution of marijuana. Denny Foster is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Each defendant is charged with at least one count of using a cellphone in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. Finally, Denny Foster and Guzman are charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

Donabedian is Denny Foster’s girlfriend. Ybarra is friends with Donabedian and Denny Foster. It’s unclear how Guzman and Reynolds fit in any of the relationships.

In November, Ybarra was sentenced to a year in prison for mailing several pounds of marijuana through a package delivery company. Defense lawyer Richard Beshwate, who represented Ybarra, has said she neither knew Keith Foster nor will she have to testify against him.

Keith Foster and the remaining defendants are out of custody. All of the defendants are from Fresno, except Reynolds, who is from Shasta Lake.

Joint investigation

Foster, who joined the Fresno Police Department in 1986, had served as deputy chief for eight years, overseeing patrol operations for the department’s four policing districts. If convicted at trial, he faces at least 25 years in prison.

The charges against Foster and the other six defendants are the result of a joint investigation by the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. An affidavit by ATF special agent Sherri L. Reynolds outlines the case against the defendants:

Keith Foster told Flowers in a Dec. 23, 2014 phone call that he had “100 of those things” for Flowers. Keith Foster picked up a prescription for 100 oxycodone tablets at a Rite Aid pharmacy drive-thru and then drove his black BMW to Flowers’ home on West Church Avenue in a pocket of southwest Fresno just outside city limits.

Keith Foster picked up another prescription of oxycodone pills on Jan. 27, 2015 and then drove to Flowers’ home.

On Dec. 6, 2014, Keith Foster called Denny Foster, who was in Redding to obtain marijuana, saying he wanted some “units” for “his boy.” On Dec. 27, an individual known as “J.B.” went to Denny Foster’s home to buy marijuana. Denny Foster, who was not at home, told Donabedian, who lives with him, to get marijuana from a Tupperware bowl with a blue lid and sell it to J.B. for “fifty.”

According to the affidavit, Denny Foster was convicted in Oregon in 2005 for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In 2008, he was arrested for possession of marijuana for sale in Shasta County. And he was arrested on Jan. 4, 2015 on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale in Merced County and released from custody the next day.

On Dec. 24, 2014, agents intercepted a phone call between Keith Foster and Guzman. Keith Foster told Guzman he knew someone who was trying to “get the black, “ a reference to black tar heroin. On Feb. 7, 2015, Denny Foster said in a phone call with Ybarra that he was on his way to pick her up so she could ship a half-pound of marijuana to an address in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Agents lost sight of Ybarra but then were alerted by employees of a FedEx office at Blackstone and Nees avenues about a suspicious package that had been dropped off by a Hispanic woman. Ybarra was identified in the store’s surveillance video as the customer. On Feb. 9, 2015, a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy went to the FedEx distribution center, where the package was opened and found to contain eight vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana.

Slow going in court

The case has been on hold in federal court while defense attorneys sift through tens of thousands of pages of documents. The evidence includes transcripts of wiretaps and information from seized electronic devices, prosecutors say.

Court records say the defendants have had three status hearings in front of U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Sheila Oberto. A fourth status hearing is scheduled for June 20.

The plea offers were mentioned in a court document titled “Status Report” and filed by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie L. Alsworth on April 4. The report says plea offers were made to Reynolds in July; Flowers in September; and Guzman in November. There is no mention of a deadline as to when the offers had to be accepted.

The report also says that additional evidence that includes transcripts and investigative reports was handed over to defense lawyers on March 9 this year. Lawyers were notified that additional evidence from “electronic devices” was available, but they had to give prosecutors “an external hard drive upon which to copy the data.” But as of March 31, only one lawyer had provided a hard drive to get the information, the report says.

Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Wednesday the status report was written at Oberto’s request so she can know the progress in the case. At this point, the information in the plea offer is not public, Horwood said.

“Plea offers are regularly sent to defendants without mention in the court record,” Horwood said. “It doesn’t mean much until the defendant agrees to it.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts