A 6-year-old motion filed in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department corruption case is adding fuel to a burgeoning public discussion over the alleged participation of U.S. government agents in drug trafficking and weapons shipments.
The motion, filed in 1990 by Century City defense lawyer Harland W. Braun, alleges that sheriff's deputies serving a search warrant in 1986 turned up evidence linking CIA operatives to military activities in Central America and drug sales in Los Angeles. Claims of a similar relationship were made in a recent series of articles by the San Jose Mercury News, which alleged that the CIA-sponsored Nicaraguan Contras smuggled cocaine to South-Central Los Angeles.
Sparked by that series, members of Congress are conducting their own probe. They have obtained the 1990 motion as part of that inquiry.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that he has received a copy of the motion, but has not had time to review it.
According to the six-page document, deputies serving warrants in a 1986 drug case entered the home of an alleged money launderer believed to be associated with a major drug ring.
The deputies allegedly encountered a man who identified himself as a CIA agent and gave the deputies the name of his contact in Virginia, where the agency is headquartered. The man was allowed to notify the CIA of the searches, the motion states, adding that the deputies proceeded with their search.
"Officers discovered films of military operations in Central America, technical manuals, information on assorted military hardware and communications, and numerous documents indicating that drug money was being used to purchase military equipment for Central America," according to the motion. "The officers also discovered blown-up pictures of the suspect in Central America with the Contras showing military equipment and military bases."
Deputies concluded that the suspect was working with the Blandon family, the motion stated. Oscar Danilo Blandon is an admitted drug dealer who worked as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration and was a key witness in this year's drug conviction of former Los Angeles crack kingpin Ricky Ross.
The motion's explosive allegations are sure to fuel the renewed national debate on alleged CIA involvement in drug trafficking.
In an interview Friday, Braun said a number of elected officials are seeking to obtain documents that may shed more light on the allegations.
Braun's allegations were reported by The Times when he first filed the motion in 1990, but the issue quickly died, in part because U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie, at the request of prosecutors, issued a gag order barring Braun and other trial lawyers from airing the matter. Rafeedie said that even if the allegations made by Braun were true, they were not relevant to the case against sheriff's deputies accused of skimming drug money and filing false tax returns, among other things.
But now, with the issue of possible drug involvement by CIA operatives again in the news and Braun no longer prevented from publicly discussing the issue, the defense lawyer is renewing his provocative allegations.
"Someone in the 1980s made the decision that it was important enough to support the Contras that they [the government] would participate in drug dealing," he said.
In his motion, Braun said that after seizing the materials from the house, deputies booked the material as evidence. According to Braun, however, federal agents removed the property from sheriff's headquarters.
"Mysteriously, all records of the search, seizure and property also 'disappeared' from the Sheriff's Department," Braun wrote in the motion.
Sheriff's officials vehemently denied those allegations at the time, and prosecutors accused Braun of floating the issue to distract from the evidence against his client, a sheriff's deputy named Daniel Garner. Garner later served time in federal custody.
But now Braun accuses the federal government of ignoring the importance of the allegations raised in his motion. According to the defense lawyer, who is one of Los Angeles' most prominent attorneys, agents and prosecutors never followed up on the charges, a failure that Braun believes represents an act of official negligence.
Braun acknowledges that he never pursued the allegations, which he presented in court not so much to spark an inquiry as to bolster his client's case. Braun intended to offer the evidence in order to show that the government had acted outrageously.
Had he succeeded in convincing the judge of the government's misconduct, Braun said, he would have asked for the charges against Garner to be dismissed. But when Rafeedie barred the issue from the trial, that ended the matter, Braun said.
"I didn't really think of this ideologically," he said. "I thought of it as a defense. . . . I didn't follow it up because I really didn't have a major interest in it."