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Testimony links U.S.
to drugs-guns trade
Dealers got their 'own little arsenal'
Published: Aug. 18, 1996
BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer
DANILO BLANDON WAS a full- service drug dealer. In
addition to the tons of inexpensive cocaine he provided
his clients, he also sold them assault weapons and
sophisticated communications gear, including hidden
microphone detectors to sniff out undercover cops.
"We had our own little arsenal,'' recalled Rick Ross, who
was Los Angeles' biggest "crack'' cocaine dealer in the
mid-1980s. "Once he tried to sell (my partner) a grenade
launcher. I said, "Man, what ... do we need with a
Blandon testified in March that his source for such
accouterments -- which included Uzi submachine guns and
Colt AR-15 assault rifles … was an ex-Laguna Beach
burglary detective named Ronald J. Lister. Lister and his
partners sometimes showed up at meetings of Contra
supporters in Los Angeles to demonstrate machine guns,
Lister, 50, claimed he worked for the Central
Intelligence Agency, according to federal officials and
FBI documents. He later worked as an informant for the
DEA and the FBI, records and interviews revealed.
In late 1986, as part of Special Prosecutor Lawrence
Walsh's Iran-Contra investigation, FBI agents
investigating the Iran-Contra scandal interviewed
Lister's former real estate agent, who told of Lister's
paying cash for a $340,000 house in Mission Viejo. When
the Realtor asked Lister where the money came from,
Lister replied that he was raising funds for the Contras,
an activity he described as "CIA-approved.''
Christopher Moore, an L.A. attorney who once worked as an
office assistant for Lister's company, Mundy Security
Group, said Lister sent him to El Salvador in June 1982
to "baby-sit'' a U.S. government contract the company had
to install a security system for a Salvadoran air force
Spoke of CIA protection
Lister often spoke of "being protected by the CIA,''
Moore said in an interview. "I didn't know whether to
believe him or not.''
One thing is certain: There is considerable evidence that
El Salvador's air force was deeply involved with cocaine
flights, the Contras and Blandon's cocaine supplier,
Pilot admits role
Meneses said one of his oldest friends is a former Contra
pilot named Marcos Aguado, a Nicaraguan who works for the
Salvadoran air force high command.
Aguado was identified in 1987 congressional testimony as
a CIA agent who helped the Contras get weapons, airplanes
and money from a major Colombian drug trafficker named
George Morales. Aguado admitted his role in that deal in
a videotaped deposition taken by a U.S. Senate
subcommittee that year.
His name also turned up in a deposition taken by the
congressional Iran-Contra committees that same year.
Robert W. Owen, a courier for Lt. Col. Oliver North,
testified he knew Aguado as a Contra pilot and said there
was "concern'' about his being involved with drug
While flying for the Contras, Aguado was stationed at
Ilopango Air Base near El Salvador's capital of San
Agent's reports ignored
In 1985, the DEA agent assigned to El Salvador --
Celerino Castillo III -- began picking up reports that
cocaine was being flown to the United States out of
hangars 4 and 5 at Ilopango as part of a Contra-related
covert operation. Castillo said he soon confirmed what
his informants were telling him.
Starting in January 1986, Castillo began documenting the
cocaine flights -- listing pilot names, tail numbers,
dates and flight plans -- and sent them to DEA
The only response he got, Castillo wrote in his 1994
memoirs, was an internal DEA investigation of him. He
took a disability retirement from the agency in 1991.
"Basically, the bottom line is it was a covert operation
and they (DEA officials) were covering it up,'' Castillo
said in an interview. "You can't get any simpler than
that. It was a coverup.'' DEA officials would not respond
to those statements. A Freedom of Information Act request
for Castillo's reports is still pending. Lister, who
pleaded guilty to federal cocaine charges in 1991 and is
serving a prison sentence in Phoenix, did not respond to
several requests for an interview. Aguado could not be
reached for comment.
MONDAY: How the drug ring worked, and how crack was
"born" in the Bay Area. Plus, the story of how the U.S.
government gave back $36,000 seized from a drug dealer
after he claimed the money belonged to the Contras.
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