Includes supporting documentation and testimony.
[Welcome to Mercury Center]
Frames: [ Enable | Disable ]
War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans
Contra case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A.
dealer faces life
Published: Aug. 20, 1996 [Other stories]
BY GARY WEBB Flawed
Mercury News Staff Writer sentencing
FOR THE LAST YEAR and a half, the U.S. Department of reason for
Justice has been trying to explain why nearly everyone race
convicted in California's federal courts of ''crack'' disparity
cocaine trafficking is black. In 1993,
Critics, who include some federal court judges, say it smokers got
looks like the Justice Department is targeting crack 3 years;
dealers by race, which would be a violation of the U.S. coke
Constitution. snorters got
Federal prosecutors, however, say there's a simple, if
unpleasant, reason for the lopsided statistics: Most San
crack dealers are black. Francisco
Bay Area man
''Socio-economic factors led certain ethnic and racial tangled in
groups to be particularly involved with the distribution drug web
of certain drugs,'' the Justice Department argued in a Tales to DEA
case in Los Angeles last year, ''and blacks were of gun
particularly involved in the Los Angeles area crack running,
fall on deaf
But why -- of all the ethnic and racial groups in
California to pick from -- crack planted its deadly roots
in L.A.'s black neighborhoods is something only Oscar
Danilo Blandon Reyes can say for sure.
Danilo Blandon, a yearlong Mercury News investigation
found, is the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California --
the Crips' and Bloods' first direct-connect to the
cocaine cartels of Colombia. The tons of cut-rate cocaine
he brought into black L.A. during the 1980s and early
1990s became millions of rocks of crack, which spawned
new crack markets wherever they landed.
On a tape made by the Drug Enforcement Administration in
July 1990, Blandon casually explained the flood of
cocaine that coursed through the streets of South-Central
Los Angeles during the previous decade.
''These people have been working with me 10 years,'' [audio link]
Blandon said. ''I've sold them about 2,000 or 4,000
(kilos). I don't know. I don't remember how many.''
''It ain't that Japanese guy you were talking about, is conversation
it?'' asked DEA informant John Arman, who was wearing a between John
hidden transmitter. Arman and
''No, it's not him,'' Blandon insisted. ''These ... these Blandon
are the black people.'' [Image] 78K
Arman gasped. ''Black?!'' [Image] 233K
''Yeah,'' Blandon said. ''They control L.A. The people WAV
(black cocaine dealers) that control L.A.''
U.S. has paid Blandon more than $166,000
But unlike the thousands of young blacks now serving long discusses
federal prison sentences for selling mere handfuls of the his contacts
drug, Blandon is a free man today. He has a spacious new with Arman
home in Nicaragua and a business exporting precious Note: Strong
woods, courtesy of the U.S. government, which has paid language
him more than $166,000 over the past 18 months, records used in
show -- for his help in the war on drugs. excerpt.
That turn of events both amuses and angers ''Freeway
Rick'' Ross, L.A.'s premier crack wholesaler during much AIFF
of the 1980s and Danilo Blandon's biggest customer. [Image] 308K
''They say I sold dope everywhere but, man, I know he
done sold 10 times more dope than me,'' Ross said with a [audio link]
laugh during a recent interview.
More of the
Nothing epitomizes the drug war's uneven impact on black
Americans more clearly than the intertwined lives of
Ricky Donnell Ross, a high school dropout, and his suave
cocaine supplier, Danilo Blandon, who has a master's
degree in marketing and was one of the top civilian
leaders in California of an anti-communist guerrilla army
formed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Called
the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), it became
known to most Americans as the Contras.
In recent court testimony, Blandon, who began dealing [audio link]
cocaine in South-Central L.A. in 1982, swore that the
first kilo of cocaine he sold in California was to raise
money for the CIA's army, which was trying on a Oscar Danilo
shoestring to unseat Nicaragua's new socialist Sandinista Blandon
After Blandon crossed paths with Ross, a South-Central conversation
teen-ager who had the gang connections and street smarts he had with
necessary to move the army's cocaine, a veritable Norwin
blizzard engulfed the ghettos. Meneses
Former Los Angeles Police narcotics detective Stephen W. AIFF
Polak said he was working the streets of South-Central in [Image] 224K
the mid-1980s when he and his partners began seeing more
cocaine than ever before. WAV
''A lot of detectives, a lot of cops, were saying, hey,
these blacks, no longer are we just seeing gram dealers.
These guys are doing ounces; they were doing keys,''
Polak recalled. But he said the reports were pooh-poohed
by higher-ups who couldn't believe black neighborhoods
could afford the amount of cocaine the street cops
claimed to be seeing.
''Major Violators (the LAPD's elite anti-drug unit) was
saying, basically, ahh, South-Central, how much could
they be dealing?'' said Polak, a 21-year LAPD veteran.
''Well, they (black dealers) went virtually untouched for
a long time.''
It wasn't until January 1987 -- when crack markets were
popping up in major cities all over the U.S. -- that law
enforcement brass decided to confront L.A.'s crack
problem head-on. They formed the Freeway Rick Task Force,
a cadre of veteran drug agents whose sole mission was to
put Rick Ross out of business. Polak was a charter
''We just dedicated seven days a week to him. We were
just on him at every move,'' Polak said.
Ross, as usual, was quick to spot a trend. He moved to
Cincinnati and quietly settled into a home in the woodsy
Republican suburbs on the east side of town.
''I called it cooling out, trying to back away from the
game,'' Ross said. ''I had enough money.''
His longtime supplier, Blandon, reached an identical
conclusion around the same time. A massive police raid on
his cocaine operation in late 1986 nearly gave his wife a
nervous breakdown, he testified recently, and by the
summer of 1987 he was safely ensconced in Miami, with
$1.6 million in cash.
Some of his drug profits, records show, were invested in
a string of rental car and export businesses in Miami,
often in partnership with an exiled Nicaraguan judge
named Jose Macario Estrada. Like Blandon, the judge also
worked for the CIA's army, helping FDN soldiers and their
families obtain visas and work papers in the United
States. Estrada said he knew nothing of Blandon's drug
dealings at the time.
Blandon invested in four-star steak house
Blandon also bought into a swank steak-and-lobster
restaurant called La Parrilla, which became a popular
hangout for FDN leaders and supporters. The Miami Herald
called it the ''best Nicaraguan restaurant in Dade
County'' and gave it a four-star rating, its highest.
But neither Ross nor Blandon stayed ''retired'' for long.
A manic deal-maker, Ross found Cincinnati's virgin crack
market too seductive to ignore. When he left Los Angeles,
the price of a kilo was around $12,000. In the Queen
City, Ross chuckled, ''keys was selling for $50,000. It
was like when I first started.''
Plunging back in, the crack tycoon cornered the
Cincinnati market using the same low-price, high-volume
strategy -- and the same Nicaraguan drug connections --
he'd used in L.A. Soon, he was selling crack as far away
as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Dayton and St. Louis.
''There's no doubt in my mind crack in Cincinnati can be
traced to Ross,'' police officer Robert Enoch told a
Cincinnati newspaper three years ago.
But Ross' reign in the Midwest was short-lived. In 1988,
one of his loads ran into a drug-sniffing dog at a New
Mexico bus station and drug agents eventually connected
it to Ross. He pleaded guilty to crack trafficking
charges and received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence,
which he began serving in 1990.
In sunny Miami, Blandon's retirement plans also had gone
awry. His 24-city rental car business collapsed in 1989
and later went into bankruptcy. To make money, he
testified, he came to the Bay Area and began brokering
cocaine again, buying and selling from the same
Nicaraguan dealers he'd known from his days with the FDN.
In 1990 and 1991, he testified, he sold about 425 kilos
of cocaine in Northern California -- $10.5 million worth
at wholesale prices.
But unlike before, when he was selling cocaine for the
Contras, Blandon was constantly dogged by the police.
Twice in six months he was detained, first by Customs
agents while taking $117,000 in money orders to Tijuana
to pay a supplier, and then by the LAPD in the act of
paying one of his Colombian suppliers more than $350,000.
The second time, after police found $14,000 in cash and a
small quantity of cocaine in his pocket, he was arrested.
But the U.S. Justice Department -- saying a prosecution
would disrupt an active investigation -- persuaded the
cops to drop their money laundering case.
Soon after that, Blandon and his wife, Chepita, were
called down to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service office in San Diego on a pretense and scooped up
by DEA agents, on charges of conspiracy to distribute
cocaine. They were jailed without bond as dangers to the
community and several other Nicaraguans were also
Blandon's prosecutor, L.J. O'Neale, told a federal judge
that Blandon had sold so much cocaine in the United
States his mandatory prison sentence was ''off the
Then Blandon ''just vanished,'' said Juanita Brooks, a
San Diego attorney who represented one of Blandon's
co-defendants. ''All of a sudden his wife was out of jail
and he was out of the case.''
The reasons were contained in a secret Justice Department [document link]
memorandum filed in San Diego federal court in late 1993. Motion for
Prosecutor found Blandon 'extraordinarily valuable' departure
Blandon, prosecutor O'Neale wrote, had become sentencing
''extraordinarily valuable in major DEA investigations of guidelines
Class I drug traffickers.'' And even though probation
officers were recommending a life sentence and a $4
million fine, O'Neale said the government would be
satisfied if Blandon got 48 months and no fine. Motion
Less than a year later, records show, O'Neale was back [document link]
with another idea: Why not just let Blandon go? After Motion for
all, he wrote the judge, Blandon had a federal job reduction of
waiting. sentence for
O'Neale, saying that Blandon ''has almost unlimited Blandon
potential to assist the United States,'' said the
government wanted ''to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time,
paid informant after his release from prison.''
And since it would be hard to do that job with parole
officers snooping around, O'Neale added, the government
wanted him turned loose without any supervision. Motion
granted. O'Neale declined to comment.
After only 28 months in custody, most of it spent with
federal agents who debriefed him for ''hundreds of
hours,'' he said, Blandon walked out of the Metropolitan
Correctional Center in San Diego, was given a green card
and began working on his first assignment: setting up his
old friend ''Freeway Rick'' for a sting operation.
Targeted for a sting while sitting in prison [document link]
Records show Ross was still behind bars, awaiting parole, statement
when San Diego DEA agents targeted him for a ''reverse'' regarding
sting -- one in which government agents provide the drugs Ricky Ross
and the target provides the cash. The sting's author, DEA and Danilo
agent Chuck Jones, has testified that he had no evidence Blandon
Ross was dealing drugs from his prison cell, where he'd
spent the past four years. [document link]
But during his incarceration Ross did something that, in testimony by
the end, may have been even more foolhardy: He testified DEA agent
against Los Angeles police officers, as a witness for the Chuck Jones
Soon after Ross went to prison for the Cincinnati bust,
federal prosecutors from Los Angeles came to see him,
dangling a tantalizing offer. A massive scandal was
sweeping the L.A. County sheriff's elite narcotics
squads, and among the dozens of detectives fired or
indicted for allegedly beating suspects, stealing drug
money and planting evidence were members of the old
Freeway Rick Task Force.
If Ross would testify about his experiences, he was told,
it could help him get out of jail.
In 1991, he took the stand against his old nemesis, LAPD
detective Steve Polak, who eventually pleaded guilty to a
misdemeanor charge of excessive use of force and retired.
But the deal Ross got from federal prosecutors for
testifying -- five years off his sentence and an
agreement that his remaining drug profits would not be
seized -- galled many.
''Ross will fall again someday,'' Polak bitterly told a
Los Angeles Times reporter in late 1994.
By then, the trip wires were already strung.
Within days of Ross' parole in October 1994, he and
Blandon were back in touch and their conversation quickly
turned to cocaine. It was almost like old times, except
that Ross was now hauling trash for a living. He was also
behind on his mortgage payments for an old theater he
owned in South-Central, which he was trying to turn into
a youth academy.
According to tapes Blandon made of some of their [Photo link]
discussions, Ross repeatedly told Blandon that he was Drugs used
broke and couldn't afford to finance a drug deal. But in DEA's
Ross did agree to help his old mentor, who was also bust (15K)
pleading poverty, find someone else to buy the 100 kilos
of cocaine Blandon claimed he had.
Drug-laden vehicle was a trap for Ross
On March 2, 1995, in a shopping center parking lot in
National City, near San Diego, Ross poked his head inside
a cocaine-laden Chevy Blazer and the place exploded with
Ross jumped into a friend's pickup and zoomed off [Photo link]
''looking for a wall that I could crash myself into,'' he Ross' truck
said. ''I just wanted to die.'' He was captured after the at time of
truck careened into a hedgerow and has been held in jail his capture
without bond since then. by the DEA
Ross' arrest netted Blandon $45,500 in government rewards
and expenses, records show. On the strength of Blandon's
testimony, Ross and two other men were convicted of
cocaine conspiracy charges in San Diego last March --
conspiring to sell the DEA's cocaine. Sentencing is set
for Aug. 23. Ross is facing a life sentence without the
possibility of parole. The other men are looking at 10-
to 20- year sentences.
Acquaintances say Blandon, who refused repeated interview
requests, is a common sight these days in Managua's
better restaurants, drinking with friends and telling of
his ''escape'' from U.S. authorities.
According to his Miami lawyer, Blandon spends most of his
time shuttling between San Diego and Managua, trying to
recover Nicaraguan properties he left behind in 1979,
when the socialists seized power and sent him running to
the United States.
Additional reporting for this series in Nicaragua and
Costa Rica was done by Managua journalist Georg Hodel.
Research assistance at the Nicaraguan Supreme Court was
performed by journalist Leonore Delgado.
Go to: Home | Dark Alliance:
| Mercury Center Home | Index | Feedback | NewsLibrary |
©1996 Mercury Center. The information you receive on-line from Mercury
Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The
copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or
repurposing of any copyright-protected material.