Hoping to bolster allegations of CIA complicity in South-Central Los Angeles' crack epidemic, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) released documents Monday that she says provide further evidence of links between the spy agency and city's drug trade during the mid-1980s.
Waters said the documents--including a Los Angeles County sheriff's report--show that one suspected player in the South-Central cocaine network told authorities during a 1986 drug raid that he "worked with the CIA." The documents also state that evidence seized from his Mission Viejo home included military films and training manuals--material Waters said proves the ring had ties to the Contra army in Nicaragua.
Waters said, moreover, that the documents discovered during the raid have disappeared from the Sheriff's Department or are being hidden by the department, a contention disputed by Sheriff Sherman Block on Monday.
For the most part, the information released by Waters surfaced in 1990 during the trial of seven Los Angeles County sheriff's narcotics officers accused of skimming money and drugs during undercover operations. At that time, The Times and other news media recounted the statements of the man who claimed to work for the CIA and an allegation that documents were taken from the Sheriff's Department by federal authorities. Those statements were contained in a motion by one of the deputies' attorneys.
But with the controversy surrounding a series of articles by the San Jose Mercury News suggesting that the CIA was behind Los Angeles' crack explosion, even previously disclosed information has been given new life.
The Mercury News attributed the crack's spread in Los Angeles to a fund-raising effort by the Nicaraguan Contras, who allegedly used drug riches to arm their CIA-backed rebel armies. At the center of the effort, according to the newspaper, was a Nicaraguan expatriate named Oscar Danilo Blandon and a South-Central dealer named "Freeway" Ricky Ross, who is awaiting sentencing on drug charges in San Diego federal court.
Although the CIA has denied involvement with the cocaine sales--and the series has been criticized for failing to offer evidence of a CIA link to the traffickers' efforts--the stories have generated immense interest and outrage, fueled by Waters.
During her news conference, Waters responded to skepticism of the series by releasing documents aimed at supporting the notion of CIA involvement.
"I think this is further evidence of the fact that this ring existed, and they have said in more than one way and more than one time that they were connected to the CIA," Waters told the crowded gathering of reporters.
Standing at Central Avenue and Adams Boulevard, Waters pointed to a check-cashing outlet that she said was once a bar where Blandon sold 10 kilograms of cocaine a week during the 1980s, part of a far-flung operation that targeted the black community by employing 200 people and 14 locations to distribute the drugs.
"It is important to understand that law enforcement officials knew that Blandon and his operation sold cocaine mainly to blacks in the South-Central Los Angeles area," she said.
Waters also distributed copies of a search warrant affidavit and sheriff's reports about an Oct. 27, 1986, police raid on the Blandon operation, which led to no charges being filed.
Waters said she obtained the reports by showing up unannounced last week at the Sheriff's Department and demanding copies.
One report shows that a location police raided was the home of former Laguna Beach Police Officer Ronald Lister, then a private security consultant. Waters said that in a jailhouse interview, Ross identified Lister as a member of the Danilo ring who not only sold drugs but also provided Uzis, AK-47s, telephone scramblers and money counters for street gangs pedaling crack.
According to a report by one deputy involved in the raid, Lister warned that "he had dealings in South America and worked with the CIA and added that his friends in Washington weren't going to like what was going on."
Waters also questioned Monday why materials taken from Lister's home--including the military training films and manuals--were not returned to him.
"These were the training films of the [Nicaraguan Democratic Force], this is the army of the Contras," she said, adding that the "evidence is somehow being held on to by the L.A. County sheriff's."
Reacting to Waters' suggestion of a cover-up in the Sheriff's Department, Block told reporters during a news conference that evidence taken from Lister's home, such as television monitors and ammunition, was used by the department. Other materials, including the training films and miscellaneous papers, were destroyed pursuant to department policy and state law because no charges were filed.
"There has been no effort to conceal anything," Block said.
Asked whether the CIA took any of the evidence seized in the raid, Block responded: "I'm saying it categorically, absolutely" that no one in the CIA removed the materials.
Block also said that when names of those with suspected links to the CIA surfaced during the investigation, a list was sent to the intelligence agency. According to Block, only one name was recognized and "all they said was they knew he was a cocaine dealer." The sheriff said he was not aware of the man's identity.
Waters, who made a surprise appearance at Block's news conference, insisted that charges should have been filed against Blandon, Lister and others targeted in the raids and that the documents should have been preserved. Block countered that prosecutors concluded there were not enough drugs to file trafficking charges.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have denied that Lister, despite his statements to authorities during the raid, has CIA connections.
"That claim, I happen to know, is false," Assistant U.S. Atty. L. J. O'Neale said during Ross' trial early this year in San Diego.
O'Neale said Lister, whose name surfaced in the Ross trial last March, is a convicted drug dealer who has claimed CIA connections as a ruse to impress illegal business partners and "to try and deter prosecution."