A judge delayed sentencing of celebrated Los Angeles drug dealer "Freeway" Ricky Ross on Friday to give his attorney a chance to prove his contention that overzealous federal authorities improperly used a drug dealer to entrap Ross.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council--pressured by a group of black political activists--asked U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to investigate published allegations that the explosion of crack in Los Angeles during the 1980s was exacerbated by covert U.S. government support of Latin American drug smuggling.
Ross' attorney, Alan Fenster, wants to question two inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego about their knowledge of convicted drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon. Blandon was the key witness against Ross, the onetime kingpin of the crack cocaine market in Los Angeles.
Fenster asserts that inmates will provide evidence that Blandon, despite his assurances to the government, is still dealing drugs while working as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Ross hopes such testimony will convince U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff that he deserves a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Huff, while expressing some skepticism about the truthfulness of one of the inmates, a convicted perjurer, scheduled a hearing for Sept. 13 so they can be questioned by Fenster and prosecutors. Because of his two previous felony drug convictions, Ross could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Fenster says Blandon, a drug partner of Ross in the 1980s before both men were sent to prison, pressured Ross to return to distributing crack cocaine in South-Central Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Testimony at Ross' trial, which ended in a conviction, indicated that Blandon, a member of a wealthy Nicaraguan family, was released early from prison after promising to help authorities arrest and convict other drug dealers, particularly Ross.
Blandon testified that he began smuggling large amounts of cocaine to Ross in the 1980s so he could funnel profits to the Contra rebels in his native Nicaragua. The Contras were mobilized and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency in an effort to topple the country's leftist regime.
Fenster told reporters that "Ricky Ross was the victim of the U.S. government." But Assistant U.S. Atty. L.J. O'Neale, who prosecuted Ross, told Huff that Ross' comments on secretly tape-recorded meetings with Blandon and an undercover drug agent portray someone who was eager to get back into the lucrative drug trade.
Members of Ross' family attended the hearing, including his mother, Annie, who clutched her Bible.
Ross, 36, was arrested in National City earlier this year and has been kept without bail at the federal prison in San Diego.
Black inner-city communities have been the hardest hit by crack abuse. During the past decade, some black activists have accused the government of conspiring against them by allowing Latin American cocaine to flood black communities, rather than cracking down on favored Latin military regimes.
Such activists have offered little proof, but their outrage was again stoked this week when the San Jose Mercury News published a series of articles charging that a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Ross and leaders of other Los Angeles drug gangs during the 1980s and funneled the profits to the Contras. The newspaper also alleged that U.S. government agencies protected the smugglers.
Councilman Nate Holden, whose district includes part of South Los Angeles, sponsored the motion to ask the Justice Department to investigate the charges. "We look at all the dysfunctional families, the crack addicts, the crack babies, the drive-by shootings, robberies and killings . . . and all over drugs," Holden said. "Now we find there may well be an enemy within."
Holden's motion followed testimony by black activists who staged a demonstration earlier in the day by about 20 people on the steps of City Hall.