A judge deciding the fate of onetime Los Angeles crack kingpin "Freeway" Ricky Ross ordered prosecutors Friday to rebut his lawyer's contention that Ross was an unwitting dupe of the CIA.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff asked prosecutors to provide proof that the Central Intelligence Agency never "participated in or condoned" drug dealings by Nicaraguan rebels, including the smuggling of tons of cocaine into Los Angeles during the 1980s.
Ross' lawyer asserts that his client's recent drug conviction, which threatens to put Ross in prison for life, should be dismissed because prosecutors used an undercover informant tied to the Nicaraguan Contras. The defense says the informant was part of a CIA-approved scheme during the 1980s to raise money for the Contras by selling cocaine in the United States.
Ross lawyer Alan Fenster said the government is guilty of outrageous behavior by concealing the "nefarious conduct, bad character and evil doings" of Oscar Danilo Blandon, the convicted drug dealer and Contra sympathizer who was Ross' cocaine supplier in the early 1980s--and then helped drug authorities snare Ross in a sting in 1995.
Friday was to be the day Ross, 36, was sentenced. Instead, in a lengthy and emotionally heated hearing, Assistant U.S. Atty. L.J. O'Neale, who successfully prosecuted Ross, charged that Fenster is desperately trying to create an issue that is "false, a red herring, a smoke screen" to save his client from prison.
Huff noted that the CIA has adamantly denied being involved in drug dealing. And she expressed puzzlement about the defense's proposition that the 1995 case against Ross should be dismissed if it can be proved that Blandon was tied to the CIA more than a decade earlier, when he and Ross teamed up to dominate the Los Angeles cocaine market.
Nevertheless, Huff asked O'Neale to get an affidavit from the CIA saying that it had no role in drug dealing by the Contras, the rightist guerrilla army that the CIA supplied during the Reagan and Bush administrations' efforts to topple the socialist Nicaraguan government.
Fenster asked that Huff require the CIA to swear not only that it did not participate in or condone drug dealing, but that it did not know of any such drug dealing. The judge declined.
"One hopes that the intelligence forces of the United States have knowledge of a whole lot of things they don't participate in," O'Neale told Huff.
With Ross' family and supporters from South-Central Los Angeles in the courtroom, Fenster said Ross was "a victim of the most outrageous government misconduct known to man."
Fenster portrayed Ross as a pawn in a plot to raise money for the Contras by smuggling in tons of cocaine and targeting "the most vulnerable part of our society"--low-income, minority neighborhoods--as a place to sell the drug.
O'Neale shot back that Ross was a drug dealer before he met Blandon in 1983. "What he wanted was to be Scarface, the cocaine king, a drug dealer," O'Neale said. "It wasn't the CIA or space aliens or the slime beast from the planet Zanthon that made him do it. It was his own greed."
Blandon now lives in San Diego and Miami and, according to court documents, has been paid $166,000 by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Huff, asking that both attorneys lower their voices, set Nov. 19 for a hearing to decide on Ross' sentence. The delay will also allow Fenster to quiz two federal inmates who allege that Blandon has been dealing drugs even while working as an informant for the DEA.
Blandon, a member of a wealthy Nicaraguan family, testified at Ross' trial that he worked directly for the Contras' military chief to smuggle tons of Colombian cocaine into the U.S. for distribution in L.A. and the San Francisco Bay Area.
A series of stories last month by the San Jose Mercury News has reheated a decade-old allegation that the CIA protected Nicaraguan drug smugglers in the 1980s and, in the process, allowed the crack epidemic to ravage inner city neighborhoods.
Ross, who served prison terms in Ohio and Texas, was arrested in National City in a drug sting set up by Blandon on March 2, 1995. Blandon had been given an early release from prison on a drug conviction in 1994 after agreeing to work as an undercover agent to snare Ross and other drug dealers.