By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I skimmed the 39-page transcript. Whatever else this Blandon fellow may have been, he was pretty much the way Coral had described him. A big-time trafficker who'd dealt dope for many years, he started out dealing for the contras, a right-wing Nicaraguan guerrilla army, in Los Angeles. He'd used drug money to buy trucks and supplies. At some point after Ronald Reagan got into power, the CIA had decided his services as a fund-raiser were no longer required, and he stayed in the drug business for himself.
What made the story so compelling was that he was appearing before the grand jury as a U.S. government witness. He wasn't under investigation. He wasn't trying to beat a rap. He was there as a witness for the prosecution, which meant that the U.S. Justice Department was vouching for him. But who was the grand jury investigating? Every time the testimony led in that direction, words - mostly names - were blacked out.
"Who is this family they keep asking him about?"
"Rafael says it's Meneses. Norwin Meneses and his nephews. Have you heard of them?"
"Norwin is one of the biggest traffickers on the West Coast. When Rafael got arrested, that's who the FBI and the IRS wanted to talk to him about. Rafael has known [Norwin and his nephews] for years. Since the '70s, I think. The government is apparently using Blandon to get to Meneses."
Inside, I heard the bailiff calling the court to order, and we returned to the courtroom. During the hearing, I kept trying to recall where I had heard about this contra-cocaine business before. Had I read it in a book? Seen it on television? Like most Americans, I knew the contras had been a creation of the CIA, the darlings of the Reagan Right, made up largely of the vanquished followers of deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza and his brutal army, the National Guard. But drug trafficking? Surely, I thought, if there had been some concrete evidence, it would have stuck in my mind. Maybe I was confusing it with something else. During a break, I went to the restroom and bumped into Assistant U.S. Attorney Hall. I introduced myself as a reporter. Hall eyed me cautiously.
"Why would the Mercury News be interested in this case?" he asked. "You should have been here two years ago. This is old stuff now."
"I'm not really doing a story on this case. I'm looking into one of the witnesses. A man named Blandon. Am I pronouncing the name correctly?"
Hall appeared surprised. "What about him?"
"About his selling cocaine for the contras." Hall leaned back slightly, folded his arms and gave me a quizzical smile. "Who have you been talking to?"
"Actually, I've been reading. And I was curious to know what you made of his testimony about selling drugs for the contras in L.A. Did you believe him?"
"Well, yeah, but I don't know how you could absolutely confirm it. I mean, I don't know what to tell you," he said with a slight laugh. "The CIA won't tell me anything."
I jotted down his remark. "Oh, you've asked them?"
"Yeah, but I never heard anything back. Not that I expected to. But that's all ancient history. You're really doing a story about that?"
"I don't know if I'm doing a story at all," I said. "At this point, I'm just trying to see if there is one. Do you know where Blandon is these days?"
"Not a clue."
That couldn't be true, I thought. How could he not know? He was one of the witnesses against Rafael Cornejo. "From what I heard," I told him, "he's a pretty significant witness in your case here. He hasn't disappeared, has he? He is going to testify?"
Hall's friendly demeanor changed. "We're not at all certain about that."
When I got back to Sacramento, I called my editor at the main office in San Jose, Dawn Garcia, and filled her in on the day's events. Dawn was a former investigative reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle and had been the Mercury's state editor for several years.
"So, what do you think?" she asked, editorese for "Is there a story here and how long will it take to get it?"
"I don't know. I'd like to spend a little time looking into it at least. Hell, if his testimony is true, it could be a pretty good story. The contras were selling coke in L.A.? I've never heard that one before."
She mulled it over for a moment before agreeing. "It's not like there's a lot going on in Sacramento right now," she said. That was true enough. The sun-baked state capital was entering its summertime siesta, when triple-digit temperatures sent solons adjourning happily to mountain or seashore locales. With any luck, I was about to join them.
"I need to go down to San Diego for a couple days," I said. "Blandon testified that he was arrested down there in '92 for conspiracy, so there's probably a court file somewhere. He may be living down there, for all I know. Probably the quickest way to find out if what he was saying is true is to find him."