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"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.
"Are you sure about this?"
"I wouldn't want you to quote me on it," she said, "but, yes, I'm pretty sure. You can always call Alan Fenster, Ross' attorney, and ask him. I'm sure he knows."
Fenster was out, so I left a message on his voice mail, telling him I was working on a story about Oscar Danilo Blandon and wanted to interview him. When I a got back from lunch, I found a message from Fenster waiting. It said: "Oscar who?"
My heart sank. I'd suspected it was a bum lead, but I'd been keeping my fingers crossed anyway. I should have known; that would have been too perfect. I called Fenster back to thank him for his time, and he asked what kind of a story I was working on. I told him - the contras and cocaine.
"I'm curious," he said. "What made you think this Oscar person was involved in Ricky's case?"
I told him what Brooks had related, and he gasped.
"He's the informant? Are you serious? No wonder those bastards won't give me his name!" Fenster began swearing a blue streak.
"Forgive me," he said. "But if you only knew what kind of bullshit I've been going through to get that information from those sons of bitches, and then some reporter calls me up from San Jose and he knows all about him, it just makes me . . ."