By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
I called Jack Blum, the Washington, D.C., attorney who'd headed the Kerry investigation, and he confirmed that Meneses had been an early target. But the Justice Department, he said, had stonewalled the subcommittee's requests for information, and he had finally given up trying to obtain the records, moving on to other, more productive areas. "There was a lot of weird stuff going on out on the West Coast, but after our experiences with Justice . . . we mainly concentrated on the cocaine coming into the East."
"Why is it that I can barely remember this?" I asked. "I mean, I read the papers every day."
"It wasn't in the papers, for the most part. We laid it all out, and we were trashed," Blum said. "I've got to tell you, there's a real problem with the press in this town. We were totally hit by the leadership of the administration and much of the congressional leadership. They simply turned around and said, 'These people are crazy. Their witnesses are full of shit. They're a bunch of drug dealers, drug addicts; don't listen to them.' And they dumped all over us. It came from every direction and every corner. We were even dumped on by the Iran-Contra Committee. They wouldn't touch this issue with a 10-foot pole."
"There had to have been some reporters who followed this," I protested. "Maybe I'm naive, but this seems like a huge story to me."
Blum barked a laugh. "Well, it's nice to hear someone finally say that, even if it is 10 years later."
There were two reporters, Blum said, who'd pursued the contra drug story - Robert Parry and Brian Barger of the Associated Press - but they'd run into the same problems. Their stories were either trashed or ignored. When I called Parry in Virginia, he sounded slightly amused.
"How well do you get along with your editors?" Parry finally asked.
"Fine. Why do you ask?"
"Well, when Brian and I were doing these stories, we got our brains beat out." Parry sighed. "People from the administration were calling our editors, telling them we were crazy, that our sources were no good, that we didn't know what we were writing about. The Justice Department was putting out false press releases saying there was nothing to this, that they'd investigated and could find no evidence . . . We ended up being out there all by ourselves, and eventually our editors backed away completely, and I ended up quitting the AP. It was probably the most difficult time of my career." He paused. "Maybe things have changed, I don't know."
I was nonplused. Bob Parry wasn't some fringe reporter. He'd won a Polk Award for uncovering the CIA assassination manual given to the contras, and was the first reporter to expose Oliver North's illegal activities. But what he'd just described sounded like something out of a bad dream.
A few days later I got a call from Coral. My one chance to hook up with Blandon had just fallen through. "He isn't going to be testifying at Rafael's trial after all," she told me. "Rafael's attorney won his motion to have the DEA and FBI release the uncensored files, and the U.S. attorney decided to drop him as a witness rather than do that. Can you believe it? He was one of the witnesses they used to get the indictment against Rafael, and now they're refusing to put him on the stand." I hung up the phone in a funk. But pretty soon the San Diego attorney who had been out of town when I was looking for Blandon returned my call. Juanita Brooks had represented Blandon's friend and co-defendant, a Mexican millionaire named Sergio Guerra. Another lawyer in her firm had defended Chepita Blandon. She knew quite a bit about the couple.
"You don't happen to know where he is these days, do you?"
"No, but I can tell you where he'll be in a couple of months. Here in San Diego. Entirely by coincidence, I have a case coming up where he's the chief prosecution witness against my client."
"You're kidding," I said. "What case is this?"
"It's a pretty big one. Have you ever heard of someone named Freeway Ricky Ross?"
Indeed I had. I'd run across him while researching the asset-forfeiture series in 1993. "He's one of the biggest crack dealers in L.A.," I said.
"That's what they say," Brooks replied. "He and my client and a couple others were arrested in a DEA reverse sting last year, and Blandon is the confidential informant in the case."
"How did Blandon get involved with crack dealers?"
"I don't have a lot of details, because the government has been very protective of him. They've refused to give us any discovery so far," Brooks said. "But from what I understand, Blandon used to be one of Ricky Ross' sources back in the 1980s, and I suppose he played off that friendship."
My mind was racing. Blandon, the contra fund-raiser, had sold cocaine to the biggest crack dealer in South-Central L.A.? That was too much.