Teach a man to fish and you feed his crack habit 

click to enlarge Byron Bates is charged with trading nearly $10,000 worth of fish for $400 worth of crack cocaine last October.
  • Byron Bates is charged with trading nearly $10,000 worth of fish for $400 worth of crack cocaine last October.

He didn’t steal a truckload of fish just for the halibut.

A South San Francisco delivery driver who was accused last year of swapping nearly $10,000 worth of fish that he was supposed to deliver to buyers in Sacramento for $400 worth of crack cocaine, pleaded no contest Tuesday to one felony count of vehicle theft.

In October, 44-year-old Byron Bates was tasked with driving a Newport Fish Co. delivery truck loaded with seafood to the state capital, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Wednesday. He left at 6:30 a.m., but customers began calling three hours later asking about their deliveries.

Suspecting something fishy was going on, Newport‘s owner called police. By 4 p.m., prosecutors said, no deliveries had been made and Bates was not answering his phone.

Four days later, the delivery truck was found abandoned in Oakland. Prosecutors said 90 percent of the fish was gone and the rest had rotted, leading police to suspect Bates was as crooked as a box of tackle.

“Police arrested [Bates] and determined he took the fish to San Francisco and Oakland and traded the fish for $400 worth of crack cocaine,” Wagstaffe said.

At the time, Wagstaffe said, Bates was on felony probation for burglary and narcotics possession. He has burglary convictions from 1992 and 1998.

Despite his most recent arrest, Bates was not charged under California’s three-strikes law.

The plea deal Bates struck Tuesday includes a possible 32-month state prison sentence. However, his recent acceptance into the Delancey Street treatment program might significantly reduce or eliminate incarceration.

Acceptance into the program is “an enormous factor in Bates’ favor,” Wagstaffe said. “Delancey Street is an unbelievably great program.”

On Tuesday, attorney Jeff Jackson presented the judge with an apology letter from Bates.

He is scheduled to be sentenced July 19 and remains in custody on $15,000 bail.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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