A federal judge on Friday kept open the possibility that jailed drug dealer "Freeway" Ricky Ross could be granted a new trial, saying that a U.S. Justice Department probe into the ex-kingpin's 1996 conviction raised enough questions to merit further review.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff ordered prosecutors to provide her with original documents and transcripts from Inspector General Michael Bromwich's 15-month investigation, which examined allegations that Nicaragua's CIA-backed rebels had funneled tons of cocaine to Ross during the 1980s, igniting South-Central Los Angeles' crack epidemic.
Although the inspector general discounted those claims, he did find that immigration agents had improperly provided a green card to Oscar Danilo Blandon, the paroled Nicaraguan smuggler who later set up Ross here for an undercover sting.
Prosecutors argued that Blandon's immigration status had no bearing on Ross' willingness to buy 220 pounds of cocaine from him, and that the new information would not have altered the jury's verdict. But the judge appeared to be intrigued by defense arguments that an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service had fudged Blandon's paperwork to conceal his prior drug conviction, which should have made him ineligible for permanent residency.
For nobody at the INS to have noticed that Blandon was a convicted felon, "seems a little odd," Huff said, noting that there were other discrepancies in his immigration file, including missing papers and contradictory dates. "That just makes no sense to me," she added.
She said that Ross, whose life term was overturned last fall by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, could be eligible for a reduced sentence based on his cooperation with the inspector general's probe. The case was reset for March 17.