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Dark Alliance [Transcript, Pt. 5]

Tran­scripts from Gary Web­b’s orig­i­nal San Jose Mer­cury News series.

August 23, 1996
Drug king free, but black aide sits in jail
by Gary Webb
San Jose Mer­cury News

For the past 1 1/2 years, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice has been try­ing to explain why near­ly every­one con­vict­ed in Cal­i­for­ni­a’s fed­er­al courts of “crack” cocaine traf­fick­ing is black.

Crit­ics, includ­ing some fed­er­al-court judges, say it looks like the Jus­tice Depart­ment is tar­get­ing crack deal­ers by race, which would be a vio­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors, how­ev­er, say there’s a sim­ple, if unpleas­ant, rea­son for the lop­sided sta­tis­tics: Most crack deal­ers are black.

But why — of all the eth­nic and racial groups in Cal­i­for­nia to pick from — crack plant­ed its dead­ly roots in L.A.‘s black neigh­bor­hoods is some­thing Oscar Dani­lo Bland­ón Reyes may be able to answer.

Bland­ón is the John­ny Apple­seed of crack in Cal­i­for­nia — the Crips’ and Bloods’ first direct con­nect to the cocaine car­tels of Colom­bia. The tons of cut-rate cocaine he brought into black L.A. dur­ing the 1980s and ear­ly 1990s became mil­lions of rocks of crack, which spawned new mar­kets wher­ev­er they land­ed.

On a tape made by the Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion in July 1990, Bland­ón casu­al­ly explained the flood of cocaine that coursed through the streets of South-Cen­tral Los Ange­les dur­ing the pre­vi­ous decade.

“These peo­ple have been work­ing with me 10 years,” Bland­ón said. “I’ve sold them about 2,000 or 4,000 (kilos). I don’t know. I don’t remem­ber how many.”

“It ain’t that Japan­ese guy you were talk­ing about, is it?” asked DEA infor­mant John Arman, who was wear­ing a hid­den trans­mit­ter.

“No, it’s not him,” Bland­ón insist­ed. “These . . . these are the black peo­ple.”

Arman gasped. “Black?!”

“Yeah,” Bland­ón said. “They con­trol L.A. The peo­ple (black cocaine deal­ers) that con­trol L.A.”

But unlike the thou­sands of young blacks now serv­ing long fed­er­al prison sen­tences for sell­ing mere hand­fuls of the drug, Bland­ón is a free man today. He has a spa­cious new home in Nicaragua and a busi­ness export­ing pre­cious woods, cour­tesy of the U.S. gov­ern­ment, which has paid him more than $166,000 over the past 18 months, records show — for his help in the war on drugs.

That turn of events both amus­es and angers “Free­way Rick” Ross, L.A.‘s pre­mier crack whole­saler dur­ing much of the 1980s and Bland­ón’s biggest cus­tomer.

“They say I sold dope every­where, but, man, I know he done sold 10 times more dope than me,” Ross said dur­ing a recent inter­view.

Noth­ing epit­o­mizes the drug war’s uneven impact on black Amer­i­cans more clear­ly than the inter­twined lives of Ricky Don­nell Ross, a high-school dropout, and his suave cocaine sup­pli­er, Bland­ón, who has a mas­ter’s degree in mar­ket­ing and was one of the top civil­ian lead­ers in Cal­i­for­nia of an anti-com­mu­nist guer­ril­la army formed by the U.S. Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency. Called the Fuerza Demo­c­ra­t­i­ca Nicaraguense (FDN), it became known to most Amer­i­cans as the con­tras.

In recent court tes­ti­mo­ny, Bland­ón, who began deal­ing cocaine in South-Cen­tral L.A. in 1982, swore that the first kilo of cocaine he sold in Cal­i­for­nia was to raise mon­ey for the CIA’s army, which was try­ing on a shoe­string to unseat Nicaragua’s new social­ist San­din­ista gov­ern­ment.

After Bland­ón crossed paths with Ross, a South-Cen­tral teenag­er with gang con­nec­tions and street smarts nec­es­sary to move the army’s cocaine, a bliz­zard engulfed the ghet­tos.

For­mer Los Ange­les police nar­cotics detec­tive Stephen Polak said he was work­ing the streets of South-Cen­tral in the mid-1980s when he and his part­ners began see­ing more cocaine than ever before.

“A lot of detec­tives, a lot of cops, were say­ing, ‘hey, these blacks, no longer are we just see­ing gram deal­ers. These guys are doing ounces; they were doing keys,’ ” Polak recalled. But he said the reports were dis­re­gard­ed by high­er-ups who could­n’t believe black neigh­bor­hoods could afford the amount of cocaine the street cops claimed to be see­ing.

“Major Vio­la­tors (the LAPD’s elite anti-drug unit) was say­ing, basi­cal­ly, ‘ahh, South-Cen­tral, how much could they be deal­ing?’ ” said Polak. “Well, they (black deal­ers) went vir­tu­al­ly untouched for a long time.”

It was­n’t until Jan­u­ary 1987 — when crack mar­kets were pop­ping up in major cities all over the nation — that law-enforce­ment brass decid­ed to con­front L.A.‘s crack prob­lem head-on. They formed the Free­way Rick Task Force, a cadre of vet­er­an drug agents whose sole mis­sion was to put Rick Ross out of busi­ness. Polak was a char­ter mem­ber.

“We just ded­i­cat­ed sev­en days a week to him. We were just on him at every move,” Polak said.

Ross, as usu­al, was quick to spot a trend. He moved to Cincin­nati and qui­et­ly set­tled into a woodsy, sub­ur­ban home.

“I called it cool­ing out, try­ing to back away from the game,” Ross said. “I had enough mon­ey.”

His long­time sup­pli­er, Bland­ón, reached the same con­clu­sion about the same time. He moved to Mia­mi with $1.6 mil­lion in cash and invest­ed in sev­er­al busi­ness­es.

But nei­ther Ross nor Bland­ón stayed “retired” for long.

A man­ic deal-mak­er, Ross found Cincin­nati’s vir­gin crack mar­ket too seduc­tive to ignore.

Plung­ing back in, the crack tycoon cor­nered the Cincin­nati mar­ket using the same low-price, high-vol­ume strat­e­gy — and the same Nicaraguan drug con­nec­tions — he’d used in L.A. Soon, he also was sell­ing crack in Cleve­land, Indi­anapo­lis, Day­ton and St. Louis.

“There’s no doubt in my mind crack in Cincin­nati can be traced to Ross,” police offi­cer Robert Enoch told a Cincin­nati news­pa­per three years ago.

But Ross’ reign in the Mid­west was short-lived. In 1988, one of his loads ran into a drug-sniff­ing dog at a New Mex­i­co bus sta­tion, and drug agents even­tu­al­ly con­nect­ed it to Ross. He plead­ed guilty to crack traf­fick­ing charges and received a manda­to­ry 10-year prison sen­tence, which he began serv­ing in 1990.

In Mia­mi, Bland­ón’s retire­ment plans also had gone awry as his busi­ness ven­tures col­lapsed.

He returned to the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area and began bro­ker­ing cocaine again, buy­ing and sell­ing from the Nicaraguan deal­ers he’d known in his days with the FDN. In 1990 and 1991, he tes­ti­fied, he sold about 425 kilos of cocaine in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia — $10.5 mil­lion worth at whole­sale prices.

But unlike before, when he was sell­ing cocaine for the con­tras, Bland­ón was con­stant­ly dogged by the police.

Twice in six months he was detained, first by Cus­toms agents while tak­ing $117,000 in mon­ey orders to Tijua­na to pay a sup­pli­er, and then by the LAPD when he was in the act of pay­ing one of his Colom­bian sup­pli­ers more than $350,000.

The sec­ond time, after police found $14,000 in cash and a small quan­ti­ty of cocaine in his pock­et, he was arrest­ed. But the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment — say­ing a pros­e­cu­tion would dis­rupt an active inves­ti­ga­tion — per­suad­ed the police to drop their mon­ey-laun­der­ing case.

Soon after that, Bland­ón and his wife, Chep­i­ta, were arrest­ed by DEA agents on charges of con­spir­a­cy to dis­trib­ute cocaine. They were jailed with­out bond as dan­gers to the com­mu­ni­ty, and sev­er­al oth­er Nicaraguans also were arrest­ed.

The pros­e­cu­tor, L.J. O’Neale, told a fed­er­al judge that Bland­ón had sold so much cocaine in the Unit­ed States his manda­to­ry prison sen­tence was “off the scale.”

Then Bland­ón “just van­ished,” said Juani­ta Brooks, a San Diego attor­ney who rep­re­sent­ed one of Bland­ón’s co-defen­dants. “All of a sud­den his wife was out of jail and he was out of the case.”

The rea­sons were con­tained in a secret Jus­tice Depart­ment mem­o­ran­dum filed in San Diego fed­er­al court in late 1993.

Bland­ón, pros­e­cu­tor O’Neale wrote, had become “valu­able in major DEA inves­ti­ga­tions of Class I drug traf­fick­ers.” And even though pro­ba­tion offi­cers were rec­om­mend­ing a life sen­tence and a $4 mil­lion fine, O’Neale said the gov­ern­ment would be sat­is­fied if Bland­ón got 48 months and no fine. Motion grant­ed.

Less than a year lat­er, records show, O’Neale was back with anoth­er idea: Why not just let Bland­ón go? After all, he wrote the judge, Bland­ón had a fed­er­al job wait­ing.

O’Neale, say­ing that Bland­ón “has almost unlim­it­ed poten­tial to assist the Unit­ed States,” said the gov­ern­ment want­ed “to enlist Mr. Bland­ón as a full-time, paid infor­mant after his release from prison.”

After only 28 months in cus­tody, most of it spent with fed­er­al agents who debriefed him for “hun­dreds of hours,” he said, Bland­ón walked out of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Cor­rec­tion­al Cen­ter in San Diego, was giv­en a green card and began work­ing on his first assign­ment: set­ting up his old friend, “Free­way Rick,” for a sting.

Records show Ross was still behind bars, await­ing parole, when San Diego DEA agents tar­get­ed him.

Soon after Ross went to prison for the Cincin­nati bust, fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors offered him a deal. His term would be short­ened by five years in return for tes­ti­mo­ny in a fed­er­al case against Los Ange­les Coun­ty Sher­if­f’s detec­tives that includ­ed mem­bers of the old Free­way Rick Task Force.

With­in days of Ross’ parole in Octo­ber 1994, he and Bland­ón were back in touch, and their con­ver­sa­tion quick­ly turned to cocaine.

Accord­ing to tapes Bland­ón made of some of their dis­cus­sions, Ross repeat­ed­ly told Bland­ón that he was broke and could­n’t afford to finance a drug deal. But Ross did agree to help his old men­tor, who was also plead­ing pover­ty, find some­one else to buy the 100 kilos of cocaine Bland­ón claimed he had.

On March 2, 1995, in a shop­ping-cen­ter park­ing lot in Nation­al City, near San Diego, Ross poked his head inside a cocaine-laden Chevy Blaz­er, and the place explod­ed with police.

Ross jumped into a friend’s pick­up and zoomed off “look­ing for a wall that I could crash myself into,” he said. “I just want­ed to die.” He was cap­tured after the truck careened into a hedgerow. He has been held in jail with­out bond since then.

Ross’ arrest net­ted Bland­ón $45,500 in gov­ern­ment rewards and expens­es, records show. On the strength of Bland­ón’s tes­ti­mo­ny, Ross and two oth­er men were con­vict­ed of cocaine-con­spir­a­cy charges in San Diego last March — con­spir­ing to sell the DEA’s cocaine. Sen­tenc­ing was set for today. Ross is fac­ing a life sen­tence with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole. The oth­er men are look­ing at 10- to 20-year sen­tences.

Acquain­tances say Bland­ón, who refused repeat­ed inter­view requests, is a com­mon sight these days in Man­agua’s bet­ter restau­rants, drink­ing with friends and telling of his “escape” from U.S. author­i­ties.

Accord­ing to his Mia­mi lawyer, Bland­ón spends most of his time shut­tling between San Diego and Man­agua, try­ing to recov­er Nicaraguan prop­er­ties seized in 1979, when the San­din­istas took pow­er.