New Evidence Backs
San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 3, 1996
LOS ANGELES -- During the early 1980s, federal and local narcotics agents knew that a massive drug ring operated by Nicaraguan Contra rebels was selling large amounts of cocaine "mainly to blacks living in the South-Central Los Angeles area," according to a search-warrant affidavit obtained by the Mercury News.
The Oct. 23, 1986, affidavit identifies former Nicaraguan government official Danilo Blandon as "the highest-ranking member of this organization" and describes a sprawling drug operation involving more than 100 Nicaraguan Contra sympathizers.
The affidavit of Thomas Gordon, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's narcotics detective, is the first independent corroboration that the Contra army -- the Nicaraguan Democratic Force -- was dealing cocaine to gangs in Los Angeles' black neighborhoods. Known by its Spanish initials, the FDN was an anti-communist commando group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s.
Gordon's sworn statement says that both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI had informants inside the Blandon drug ring for several years before sheriff's deputies raided it Oct. 27, 1986. Gordon's affidavit is based on police interviews with those informants and one of the DEA agents who was investigating Blandon.
Twice during the past year, Ron Spear, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman, told the Mercury News that his department had no records of the 1986 raids and specifically denied having a copy of Gordon's search-warrant affidavit -- even after two pages of it surfaced during the March 1996 cocaine trafficking trial of legendary Los Angeles "crack" cocaine dealer "Freeway" Rick Ross.
The Mercury News obtained the entire search warrant affidavit this week.
Wednesday, Sheriff Sherman Block's office did not respond to written questions about the raid, the warrant, records of what was found and what happened to those records and evidence.
A recent Mercury News series revealed how Blandon's operation, which sold thousands of kilos of cocaine to black Los Angeles drug dealers such as Ross, created the first mass market for cocaine in the United States during the early 1980s and helped fuel a crack explosion that is still reverberating through black communities. Several investigations into U.S. government knowledge of, and possible involvement with, the Nicaraguan drug ring are under way. Both the CIA and the Justice Department have denied government involvement.
Call to CIA headquarters
But according to a legal motion filed in a 1990 case involving a deputy who helped execute the search warrants, one of the suspects in the raid identified himself as a CIA agent and asked police to call CIA headquarters in Virginia to confirm his identity. The motion, filed by Los Angeles defense attorney Harland W. Braun on behalf of Deputy Daniel Garner, said the narcotics detectives allowed the man to make the call but then carted away numerous documents purportedly linking the U.S. government to cocaine trafficking and money-laundering efforts on behalf of the Contras.
The motion said CIA agents appeared at the sheriff's department within 48 hours of the raid and removed the seized files from the evidence room. But Braun said detectives secretly copied 10 pages before the documents were spirited away. Braun attempted to introduce them in the 1990 criminal trial to force the federal government to back off the case. Braun was hit with a gag order, the documents were put under seal and Garner was convicted of corruption charges.
Internal sheriff's department records of the raid "mysteriously disappeared" around the same time the seized files were taken, Braun's motion said. That claim was buttressed in an interview this week by an officer involved in the raid, and earlier by an attorney for one of the defendants.
The officer, who would not allow himself to be identified, said the alleged CIA agent was Ronald J. Lister, a former Laguna Beach police detective who worked with Blandon in the drug ring. The 1986 search-warrant affidavit identifies Lister's home in Laguna Beach as one of the places searched. It says Lister was involved in transporting drug money to Miami and was Blandon's partner in a security company. The company, according to a former employee, was doing work at a Salvadoran military air base in the early 1980s. Lister pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking in 1991.
A 1986 FBI report obtained from the National Archives last year said Lister claimed his security business was "CIA approved."
Since at least 1983, Gordon's affidavit said, both Blandon and Lister were under DEA investigation. Other court records say Blandon turned up in DEA investigative files as early as 1981. Blandon now works for the DEA as an undercover informant.
At Ross' trial in March, Blandon -- the Nicaraguan government's director of wholesale markets under the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza -- testified that he was one of the founders of the Los Angeles branch of the FDN, and that he sold cocaine to raise funds for that army.
Detective Gordon's 1986 search-warrant affidavit, which was approved by Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Glenette Blackwell, mirrors much of Blandon's sworn testimony last March.
"Informant #2 stated to your affiant that Blandon is a 'Contra' sympathizer and a founder of the ... (FDN), an organization that assists the Contra movement with arms and money," Gordon's affidavit states. "The money and arms generated by the organization come through sales of cocaine. Informant #2 provided some 100 names of persons involved with the distribution of cocaine. All of these persons are either Nicaraguan and/or sympathizers to the Contra movement."
The affidavit names Lister; Blandon's father, Julio; his wife, Chepita; banker Orlando Murillo; and another man as "being directly involved with cocaine distribution."
'Up to 20 kilos a week'
The affidavit also said Blandon was delivering "up to 20 kilos a week" to a Nicaraguan cocaine dealer named Ivan Arguellas "who in turn sells mainly to blacks living in the South-Central Los Angeles area." It said Blandon "uses a beer bar at Central Avenue and Adams Street in Los Angeles to distribute as much as 10 kilos of cocaine per week." Arguellas was described as being "confined to a wheelchair as the result of being shot (in) a drug-related incident."
During an interview with the Mercury News last year, former Los Angeles crack king Ross said one of his first cocaine sources was "a guy named Ivan, who was in a wheelchair."
Gordon, like six of the seven other narcotics detectives who staged the Blandon raids, was later indicted on federal corruption charges in the early 1990s. After two trials, including one in which he defended himself, Gordon was convicted of one count of tax evasion. He could not be reached for comment.