K. Allegation that Blandon received special treatment in the 1992 San Diego prosecution of him
The allegations that law enforcement authorities, at the behest of the CIA and others, intentionally protected Blandon go beyond the unsuccessful LASD and OCDETF cases and extend to the case in which a federal prosecution was actually brought against him in 1992. In this context, the claim is that Blandon's alleged Contra connections led the government to give him a "sweetheart deal." We have found no credible evidence to support this claim. Blandon was indeed treated quite leniently. But the reason he received a substantial sentencing discount was the degree to which he cooperated with the government in the prosecution of others. This resulted in his receiving treatment comparable to what is received by others who provide substantial cooperation to the government.
Blandon told the OIG that he moved to Miami in 1987, bought into a restaurant and rental car business and, at least according to his statements to OIG investigators, did not engage in drug trafficking. Law enforcement records from the time suggest that Blandon continued some illegal activities during this period from Miami, primarily planning to build a business laundering money for other traffickers. In 1989, more informant information suggested that Blandon was engaging in or planning drug transactions. (For a description of his contact with Ricky Ross during this period, see the chapter on Ross.)
According to Blandon, he suffered some reverses in the rental business, and returned to Los Angeles in 1990 and again began drug trafficking there. Blandon told the OIG that he was unable to supply enough cars to meet tourist contracts he had made and lost a substantial amount of cash very quickly. Relying on Colombian suppliers in San Francisco, he again began selling substantial quantities of cocaine -- up to 25 kilograms at a time -- to various dealers connected with Ricky Ross. In 1991, after running up a big debt to his suppliers, Blandon decided to stay away from Los Angeles, and moved to San Diego, where he had already been spending a considerable amount of time.
Even before Blandon relocated to San Diego, he had sought to pursue trafficking activities with a drug trafficker there, John Arman. But Arman was cooperating with the DEA at the time, which led the DEA Office in San Diego to open a case on Blandon in 1990. Special Agent Charles Jones told the OIG that his entire DEA group worked on the case against Blandon, which received OCDETF designation in December 1990. The OCDETF application noted that Blandon headed a criminal organization that operated internationally from Colombia and Bolivia through the Bahamas, Costa Rica or Nicaragua to the United States. Norwin Meneses, Roger Sandino, and Aparicio Moreno were identified as "other significant leaders." The organization had several different sources of supply. Cocaine supplied by the Suarez family in Bolivia came through the Bahamas to Miami. Cocaine from the Ochoa family of the Medellin Cartel in Colombia came through Costa Rica or Nicaragua to Miami, or through Costa Rica or Nicaragua to Mexico and then Los Angeles. The application noted that "Blandon et al" had been operating out of the United States since at least 1982, primarily from Miami and Los Angeles. It also suggested that Blandon had amassed millions of dollars from trafficking, and was smuggling approximately 2000-3000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States per year. Ivan Torres, Sergio Guerra, and Orlando Murillo were said to supervise money laundering and the investment of cocaine profits. Recounting the organization's history, the application said that "Norvin Menesis-Cantarero [sic]" had helped Blandon get started in drug trafficking in Los Angeles, and that, between 1982 and 1984, Blandon had "operated directly under Menesis [sic]." It noted: "In 1984, Blandon disassociated himself from Menesis [sic] and began to work as an independent drug distributor with several subordinates working directly for Blandon." The application listed, as principal targets, Blandon, Meneses, Roger Sandino, Sergio Guerra, Aparicio Moreno, Ivan Torres, Orlando Murillo, Margarita Castillo, Chepita Blandon, Bill Downing, Richard Orgel, David Stewart, Ron Lister, and David Box. Nowhere in the application is there any mention of the Nicaraguan Contras.
San Diego Assistant U.S. Attorney Amalia Meza, DEA Special Agents Jones and Judy Gustafson, INS Special Agent Robert Tellez, Jr., IRS Special Agent Anne Luna, and U.S. Customs Service Special Agent Dave Nehls were assigned to the OCDETF team targeting the Blandon organization.
DEA Special Agent Jones told us that he obtained historical information about the Blandon organization from the DEA Riverside agents who were involved in the Los Angeles OCDETF investigation in 1987, and he also used the informant, LA CI-1, from that case. But neither Jones nor Gustafson said they were familiar with many aspects of the previous case, including the 1986 LASD searches, let alone what had been seized in them.
2. Initial Phase of the Investigation
Five informants were used in the Blandon OCDETF investigation, including LA CI-1. Because LA CI-1 had broken contact with Blandon and did not wish to reestablish contact or work in the drug trade again, he provided only background information. In July 1991, one of the informants (hereinafter "DEA CI 19") said he had worked for Blandon, who, he related, had extensive contacts in the Nicaraguan government and obtained cocaine from the Cali Cartel on credit. DEA CI 19 explained that the cocaine for Blandon's trafficking came from the San Andreas islands off the coast of Colombia to a small town in Nicaragua. It was then transported by truck through Managua and Mexico to Tijuana, where Blandon's friend Sergio Guerra smuggled it across the border, with help from a corrupt border patrol contact. DEA CI 19 stated that Blandon distributed cocaine in a number of cities: in San Francisco, through Chinto Torres; in New Orleans, through three "white guys"; in Los Angeles, through "leaders of black gangs,"; and in San Antonio, Texas, through some Mexican-Americans. Miami was said to be the "nerve center" of Blandon's operation, where Blandon kept at least two cars modified for smuggling. DEA CI 19 stated that he had driven cars loaded with cocaine numerous times and was paid between $1000 and $1500 per trip. He never saw any cocaine during these trips; he would pick up a car already loaded with cocaine that had been left in a lot with the keys hidden under the dash. He would then drive the car and leave it somewhere, never meeting the persons who had supplied or received the car.
Another informant in the San Diego OCDETF case was Ronald Lister, who was then in jail facing pending federal drug charges. Lister was released on bail to cooperate with the DEA, which he did, at least for a time. Lister provided largely historical information on Blandon's drug dealing in the late 1980s, but he had no contemporary information on Blandon's activities. Lister was rearrested several months after his release and his cooperation with the government terminated. [See the chapter on Lister for a fuller discussion of his cooperation.]
3. Allegations Regarding Blandon's ties to the Contras and the CIA in the San Diego OCDETF Investigation
Beside claims made by Ronald Lister, which we will discuss in the chapter devoted to him, the only indication that the Contras or the CIA came up during the San Diego OCDETF investigation comes from INS Special Agent Tellez. In a February 15, 1991, memorandum, Tellez reported that DEA case agent Gustafson had briefed him on the OCDETF investigation, and noted:
Intelligence information provided should be highly protected. This major cocaine traffickers [sic] may have had a degree of influence from the C.I.A. Information from CI's states that they are free game and do not have any protection from any government agency, to there [sic] knowledge.
When interviewed by OIG investigators and asked about the source of this information, Tellez explained that it was just a rumor that he had received from a confidential informant and that he could provide no further information about this claim. Although Tellez had also told an Immigration Examiner that Blandon knew people who had contacts with the CIA and the Contras, Tellez told the OIG that he was just trying to impress the examiner so that he would expedite Blandon's application (see section L).
4. Blandon's Arrest at the Border
On August 26, 1991, in a random search of southbound cars, U.S. Customs Service agents stopped a car driven by Sergio Guerra-Deguer (Guerra) at the Mexican border and found $117,040 in cash and money orders in the car's trunk and glove compartment and in Guerra's wallet. Blandon was a passenger in the car. Blandon later told OIG investigators that, although the two were on their way to meet a Colombian supplier in Tijuana, he had not even realized that Guerra had the checks, because Guerra was supposed to have mailed them.
Guerra was already the subject of a money laundering investigation by Assistant U.S. Attorney L J O'Neale in San Diego, based on undercover conversations indicating that Guerra owned the Gateway parking lot next to the United States border and may have purchased it with drug proceeds. As a result, Assistant U.S. Attorney Meza, who was handling the OCDETF investigation of the Blandon case, transferred that case to O'Neale. Meza believed that her case against Blandon was weak, particularly after Lister ceased his cooperation. O'Neale thus took over the entire investigation against Guerra and the Blandon organization.
The Customs agents who arrested Guerra and Blandon were unaware that they were the subjects of other investigations. Although Guerra was soon indicted by a federal grand jury for bringing undeclared currency over $100,000 across the border, the U.S. Attorney's Office later obtained the dismissal of the indictment without prejudice, so that O'Neale could seek a more comprehensive indictment against both Guerra and Blandon. We found no indication that the dismissal of this indictment, or the decision not to include Blandon as a defendant in this indictment, was attributable to a Contra or CIA connection.
5. Blandon's 1991 Arrest in Los Angeles
Los Angeles Police Department officers and federal agents had been tracking Colombian citizens Raul Vega, Luis Ferney Castro and others for some time. On December 9, 1991, they observed Mauricio Gonzales, a driver for Blandon, pick up Castro. Gonzales and Castro then changed to an identical car, and they drove back to where Gonzales had picked up Castro originally. When Castro got out of the car with a black nylon duffel bag, he was followed and arrested. In the bag was a large amount of United States currency. Gonzales was followed to an apartment building where he met Blandon and Vega and drove away. Soon thereafter, Blandon and Vega were arrested. Agents found a considerable amount of cash on Blandon, together with a dollar bill that was folded up and contained a small amount of white powder resembling cocaine. (Blandon later told the OIG that he had been delivering $90,000 to his Colombian supplier through Vega that day; the rest of the money seized from Vega had not been from him.)
Although the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office brought money laundering and other charges against Blandon and others, the charges were soon dropped, ostensibly for insufficient evidence. In reality, the San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office asked the Los Angeles authorities not to proceed, so it could continue its drug investigation of Blandon and his organization. The money, however, was not returned.
6. The Indictment
The San Diego OCDETF investigation continued, and, on May 5, 1992, a sealed indictment was returned against Blandon, Guerra, Chepita Blandon, Armando Reyes, Mauricio Gonzales, Raul Vega, and Eduardo Cardona, charging them with conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846 and 841(a)(1). The indictment alleged that Blandon had bought wholesale quantities of cocaine from various suppliers, including Eduardo Cardona, and that Blandon's wife, Chepita, had reviewed all of his proposed transactions, had arranged for the payment of the organization's expenses, and had supervised "at least one of [Blandon's] distributors of smaller amounts of cocaine." The indictment also charged that Blandon had directed the activities of Reyes, Gonzales, Vega and others in storing, concealing, transporting, and distributing wholesale quantities of cocaine. The indictment went on to charge the defendants with conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1)(A) and (B), and also charged Blandon and Guerra with laundering narcotics proceeds, failure to file a required financial report, and false statements stemming from the border stop on August 26, 1991.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale, the case against the defendants was reasonably strong, although not without its limitations. He noted in an internal memorandum written at the conclusion of the case:
This was a historic, no-dope conspiracy to sell cocaine. Through some twists of fortune for the lead defendant, every attempt to catch him with powder in his hands failed -- at one point, he was informed that a [confidential informant] had been arrested and aborted a 125 kilo deal hours before consummation.
O'Neale told the OIG that, while it was not common to bring historical conspiracy cases in his district, he had felt that the case against Blandon was strong based on numerous recorded conversations in which Blandon discussed drug trafficking. The government also had five cooperating informants who could testify to Blandon's drug trafficking network. O'Neale believed that the drug case against Blandon was "triable" -- meaning that there were no guarantees of a guilty verdict -- and that the money laundering case was stronger.
7. Blandon Begins to Cooperate
On May 15, 1992, INS agent Tellez asked Blandon to come to the INS office to obtain his green card. When Blandon arrived, DEA agents Jones and Gustafson arrested him and his wife. In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale moved to hold both Blandon and his wife without bail pending trial. Tellez also had an INS detainer placed on Blandon. The court ordered Blandon held without bail.
Several weeks after Blandon's arrest, his attorney approached O'Neale about the possibility of Blandon providing cooperation to the government. According to O'Neale, he responded by saying that Blandon would have to give the government the "moon and stars" to get any kind of reduced sentence. Despite O'Neale's apparent initial skepticism, Blandon soon began cooperating, providing information about other traffickers to agents and making numerous monitored calls to other traffickers from jail.
At the time Blandon's offer to cooperate was being considered, the DEA's NADDIS database included the allegations from an informant in January 1987 that Blandon had planned to have three informants killed. The NADDIS database also contained information from another informant arrested in Texas that the informant was worried about giving information to the authorities because Blandon had already "killed 3 persons [in the] U.S." According to DEA reports, no further details could be obtained from this informant. These are references to Blandon's alleged statements to DEA CI-1 about his plans to kill Carlos Rocha and others for informing on him, discussed in section G. When asked by the OIG as to the extent of his inquiries into Blandon's background before using him as a cooperating informant, DEA agent Jones said that he had no knowledge that Blandon had killed anyone, and did not recall seeing such information in NADDIS. Jones advised that he would not have followed up on such information anyway, if it had merely been the unsubstantiated word of an informant.
No bail was ever granted to Blandon, but Jones said that Blandon was periodically removed from jail for undercover meetings with other drug traffickers, who were unaware that Blandon had been arrested. To accomplish this, Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale obtained permission from the Department of Justice's Office of Enforcement Operations in Washington, D.C., and he also obtained a sealed court order from the sentencing court for Blandon's temporary removal from incarceration. Each operation using Blandon outside of the jail was heavily controlled by approximately 10 to 12 DEA agents. At the end of each day, Blandon was returned to the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC).
8. Blandon's Drug Trafficking Information
According to DEA and San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office records, in debriefings following his decision to cooperate, Blandon spoke extensively about his own trafficking operation -- including his dealings with Ricky Ross -- and also provided considerable information about other traffickers still at large.
As a result of Blandon's cooperation, his co-defendant Guerra pled guilty to money laundering. According to DEA and U.S. Attorney's Office records, Blandon also:
Finally, Blandon was debriefed extensively by the FBI regarding Norwin Meneses and his organization and agreed to testify against Meneses if he is ever brought to trial in the United States. (See Chapter III for a discussion of the case against Meneses)
9. Blandon's Post-Cooperation Statements Regarding the Contras and the CIA
O'Neale and DEA Agent Gustafson have substantially similar recollections of what Blandon said during his debriefings regarding the Contras. Blandon spoke of his Contra sympathies but did not claim to be a member of that group. He had first become involved in trafficking when Norwin Meneses, then a big-time drug dealer with political connections in Nicaragua, had asked Blandon if he wanted to make money for the Contras. Blandon had worked for Meneses initially, selling 5-10 kilos at a time. Blandon said he had assumed that the money was going to the Contras, but he had no direct knowledge, and did not know what if any involvement Meneses had with the Contras. Blandon and Meneses had become partners, until Blandon cut Meneses out and dealt directly with Aparicio Moreno, a Colombian drug dealer and supplier. By the time Blandon was dealing with Ricky Ross, Blandon stated that none of the money he was making from narcotics sales was going to the Contras.
O'Neale did not recall Blandon's ever mentioning Contra leader Adolfo Calero. O'Neale also related that, when he questioned Blandon about informant reports that Blandon had given Eden Pastora $6,000 and let Pastora stay in Blandon's house in Costa Rica, Blandon said that he "just gave" Pastora the money and had not explained to Pastora that it was drug money. Gustafson recalled Blandon's saying that Pastora had not known the money sent to the Contras came from selling drugs.
When interviewed by the OIG, Jones stated that Blandon had never mentioned having any CIA contacts, and had never claimed any knowledge of CIA involvement with the Contras. Jones stated that he never discussed the CIA/Contra issue in detail with Blandon because he was interested only in obtaining narcotics information.
When interviewed by a probation officer in connection with the preparation of his pre-sentence report, Blandon avowed that "all of his problems stemmed from the Nicaraguan Contra Revolution in 1980" because he "lost everything" and was forced to flee. He said that, while he was working to establish himself in the United States, his family and friends were suffering under the tyranny of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Blandon had decided to assist his countrymen, and believed that the only way to reestablish democracy in Nicaragua was through resistance, money, and political intervention. Because he did not have enough money to "make a difference," he had became committed to "raising money for humanitarian and political reasons via illegal activity." Based on the evidence reviewed by the OIG of Blandon's extensive drug trafficking activities and the evidence of Blandon's relatively minor aid to the Contras, discussed more fully in Chapter IV, the OIG finds that Blandon overstated his commitment to the Contras when interviewed by Probation.
10. The Written Plea Agreement
Blandon eventually entered into a plea agreement with the government, which was filed with the district court on October 13, 1992. In it, he agreed to plead guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 846 and 841(a)(1). Because of the quantities of drugs alleged to have been involved in the conspiracy, this count carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, a fine of $4 million, and a period of five years supervised release after any period of incarceration. Blandon was advised that, based on the amount of cocaine discussed by him in recorded conversations, he was subject to a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years. But the agreement also made clear that Blandon could receive a sentence below the presumptive sentencing guidelines level, which was life imprisonment, and even below the statutory mandatory minimum if he continued to cooperate:
In exchange for that promised cooperation, and for cooperation already provided by the defendant, the United States will, prior to imposition of sentence, move the Court pursuant to guideline §5K1.1 to depart downward from the range specified in the sentencing guidelines, and will recommend to the Court that it sentence the defendant to no more than the ten years believed to be the minimum mandatory sentence. Should further cooperation by the defendant warrant such a recommendation, the United States retains the option of recommending that the Court depart below the ten year minimum mandatory sentence. Any recommendation of a further departure below the ten year recommendation already agreed to is in the sole discretion of the United States.
Blandon was advised that the court was not bound by the recommendation of the government, and he agreed to waive appeal of his conviction and of the sentence if the court departed downward "to a degree equal to or greater than" that recommended by the government. The agreement made no mention of Blandon's immigration status or of the possibility of Blandon's remaining in the United States.
11. Blandon's Sentencing
Had Blandon not cooperated, his sentence would likely have been harsh. The statutory penalty range for trafficking in over five kilograms of cocaine went from a mandatory minimum of ten years up to life imprisonment. But based on investigative reports indicating that he had trafficked in over 2000 kilograms of cocaine during the course of the conspiracy, the Probation Department calculated Blandon's presumptive sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines as life imprisonment. Blandon contested this figure, claiming that this figure was based on one conversation in which he had been exaggerating. The dispute did not have to be resolved, however, because the sentencing court adopted the government's sentencing recommendation. It is clear, however, that O'Neale considered Blandon to be a large-scale trafficker and the case against him to be a significant one.(24)
Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale told the OIG that his first inclination was to seek a sentence of ten years for Blandon -- the statutory mandatory minimum. However, as Blandon continued to cooperate, O'Neale decided to make a motion that would allow the sentencing judge to depart below even the statutory mandatory minimum. Such motions by the government, based on a defendant's "substantial assistance," are explicitly authorized by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). O'Neale therefore requested, on December 20, 1993, that Blandon be sentenced to 48 months, to be followed by five years supervised release.
When interviewed, O'Neale made clear that, so far as he was concerned, the Blandon case was a normal prosecution of a substantial narcotics trafficker who had spent substantial time in the business. No one from any intelligence agency ever contacted O'Neale about his case, and no one from within the government, in San Diego or elsewhere, ever pressured him in any way concerning the conduct of the case. O'Neale said he had never heard of any deals being made by the federal government with a drug dealer because the person was a Contra or Contra-supporter and said he did not know why anyone would make such a deal.
For O'Neale and everyone else responsible for the case, the extreme degree of leniency sought for Blandon, according to them, was based solely on Blandon's value as an informant. When interviewed by the OIG, DEA Special Agent Jones recalled that although DEA agents regularly tested Blandon to see if he would lie to them, he never did. According to Jones, Blandon treated his cooperation as his "full time job" and was a "dream informant." Jones opined that if the controversy generated by the Mercury News stories had not arisen, Blandon would have been able to aid in the prosecution of many more drug traffickers. He described Blandon as a "tremendous asset," and said that he believed his sentence was very fair given his level of cooperation. Gustafson stated that Blandon is the best informant she has ever worked with -- very loyal to the government, hard-working, reliable, and personally abstaining from using drugs. She continues to be in almost daily contact with him. She believed his sentence to be appropriate.
Blandon's attorney, Bradley Brunon, told OIG investigators that Blandon had received a downward departure in his case because of the very specific and extensive cooperation he had provided to DEA. He recalled that Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale was originally resistant to having Blandon cooperate at all, suggesting that Blandon did not have much to contribute. Brunon stated that O'Neale's attitude changed once Brunon talked O'Neale into giving Blandon a chance. Over the period of cooperation, O'Neale and DEA agent Jones told Brunon that they were very pleased with Blandon's cooperation, and Brunon thought that Blandon won their trust over time. Neither DEA, INS, Customs, or the U.S. Attorney's Office had ever mentioned any intervention by their superiors or any other agencies on behalf of Blandon. Brunon noted that, in his experience, the downward departure Blandon received was well within the norm in the Southern District of California. Brunon added that Blandon's co-conspirators and the informants against him had all received shorter sentences than Blandon did. (The sentences for the other defendants are described below.)
O'Neale told the OIG that he had cleared all his motions for leniency for Blandon with his supervisor in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Edward Allard, then the Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section. When interviewed by the OIG, Allard had no independent recollection of the Blandon case, but said he was willing to defer to O'Neale's recollections concerning the prosecution of Blandon. Allard recalled that O'Neale was a very experienced prosecutor, and that although O'Neale often came to him to discuss his cases, Allard was comfortable with O'Neale's making his own decisions in most matters. Allard noted that, before March 14, 1994, the U.S. Attorney's Office had no formal approval process for downward departure motions; thereafter, a section head's approval was required. When Allard reviewed requests for downward departures, he generally looked at whether the Assistant U.S. Attorney requesting it was afraid to go to trial and was just "selling out the case," at the amount of cooperation given, and at whether the case agent also supported the request. Allard stated that neither O'Neale nor the case agent, Jones, was the type to "sell cases out." According to Allard, both are very aggressive and experienced. Allard also said that the extent of the downward departure recommended for Blandon did not seem out of the ordinary, given his cooperation.
Consistent with the U.S. Attorney's Office's request, District Judge Rudi M. Brewster sentenced Blandon, on December 20, 1993, to a term of 48 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. The court also found that Blandon did not have the ability to pay a fine, but ordered him to pay a $50 special assessment. O'Neale told the OIG that the OCDETF task force actively searched for Blandon's assets but were unable to identify any seizable assets. O'Neale stated that his investigation showed that all of Blandon's liquid assets had been lost in his failed rental car business in Miami, as discussed above.
12. The Rule 35 Motion
On September 16, 1994, Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale filed a motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b), asking the court to reduce Blandon's sentence based on changed circumstances. Rule 35(b) allows the government to move the court within one year after the imposition of sentence for a reduction in the defendant's sentence to reflect a defendant's subsequent, substantial assistance in the investigation of another person who has committed an offense. Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale requested that the court further reduce Blandon's sentence to 28 and ½ months and eliminate the requirement of supervised release. This request would result in the reduction of Blandon's sentence to time served as of September 19, 1994, allowing his immediate release.
In an affidavit attached to the motion, O'Neale outlined the extent of Blandon's aid to authorities in the Northern District of California since his sentencing. The affidavit related: "I was told that Mr. Blandon had testified before the Grand Jury, and had actively cooperated in the investigation of a significant well-established drug trafficking organization, that had been the target of unsuccessful investigative attempts for many years." The affidavit stated that it was the consensus of investigators and prosecutors who had worked with Blandon that he had been "extraordinarily helpful" and that the potential for his further assistance once he was released from prison was "even greater." O'Neale also noted the opinions of DEA agent Jones and INS agent Robert Tellez:
Each of these investigators is, in my opinion, a person with extensive experience and mature good judgment. Each of these investigators believes that Mr. Blandon has almost unlimited potential to assist the United States in the investigation of major drug trafficking organizations. Their desire, with which I concur, is to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time, paid, informant after his release from prison.
Also attached to the motion was a memorandum by Jones, dated August 12, 1994, outlining Blandon's cooperation since the time of his sentencing. Among a list of significant violators and other information provided by Blandon was Ricky Ross, about whom the memorandum noted:
Mr. Blandon remains in contact with Ricky ROSS and his associates in the Los Angeles area. ROSS and associates are responsible for the distribution of major quantities of rock cocaine in the Southern California area. It is anticipated that Mr. Blandon will be able to reestablished [sic] himself with Ricky ROSS and his organization if released from custody.
In fact, with Blandon's cooperation, the DEA later developed a case against Ross, resulting in the sale of cocaine to Ross and an accomplice by an undercover agent in San Diego in March 1995. After a jury trial in which he was convicted of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it, Ross received a life sentence in prison. We describe this case in detail in the chapter of the report on Ross.
When interviewed by the OIG, O'Neale told of his confidence in Jones' assessments of cases. O'Neale recalled having been a bit apprehensive about recommending a further reduced sentence because he was unsure whether Blandon would continue to cooperate after his release from prison. He remembered telling Blandon that, if he returned to drug dealing, he would dedicate his career to reprosecuting Blandon. O'Neale reported, however, that Blandon did continue to cooperate after he was released and has been very productive. O'Neale emphasized Blandon's value, stating: "This is a guy who can call the Cali Cartel."
On September 19, 1994, Judge Brewster entered a Modified Judgment and Commitment Order which stated "time served[,] supervised release is waived." This effectively reduced Blandon's sentence to 28 and ½ months. Blandon was released shortly thereafter.
13. Disposition of Charges Against Blandon's Co-Defendants
In 1994, the government dismissed the charges against Blandon's wife, Chepita. In an undated internal memorandum entitled "Memo to File - Dispositions," O'Neale explain the basis for this move:
Her case was dismissed. The only evidence against her was uncorroborated [confidential informant] testimony, and fairly vague at that. After Danilo pled guilty, we were faced with going forward against her alone. Danilo would probably have asserted her innocence, which would have impaired his ability to cooperate, we would have had to expose the [informants], and would have had little if any chance of success. As a stand-alone case, it was not readily provable. (Even though there was [sic] no drugs with Danilo, we had numerous recordings of him negotiating drug deals, discussing other drug deals, reminiscing about old drug deals, and giving drug dealing advice. Chepita was not recorded, and we had no direct transactions specifically linked to her.) After extensive discussion with Ed Allard, Deputy Chief, I determined to dismiss the case.
There is no evidence to support any claim that the charges were dismissed against Chepita Blandon because of any affiliation with the Contras or the CIA. We found the explanation given in O'Neale's report to be reasonable, and we found no evidence that the dismissal was done for any improper purpose.
As noted by Blandon's attorney, the other defendants in his case received lesser sentences than him. Sergio Guerra pled guilty to a felony money laundering count. In an internal memorandum, O'Neale noted that Guerra had no direct link to drug trafficking. Guerra was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Raul Vega pled guilty to a felony money laundering count and agreed to cooperate with the government. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Armando Reyes also pled guilty to a felony money laundering count and agreed to cooperate. O'Neale noted that the FBI had told him that Reyes would be instrumental in a major cocaine case in the Northern District of California. Reyes was eventually sentenced to probation.
14. OIG Conclusions on the Allegation that Blandon Received Special Treatment Because of Alleged Ties to the CIA and the Contras
There is no doubt that Blandon obtained a considerable degree of leniency at the behest of the government. In his cooperation agreement, the government agreed to recommend a sentence of only ten years, even though the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would have mandated a far higher sentence -- life imprisonment -- based on the quantity of cocaine Blandon had trafficked in. This agreement, however, was not binding on the sentencing judge. And, when it came time for Blandon to be sentenced, the government filed a motion that allowed the court to give Blandon even less than the ten-year minimum. Thereafter, the government's Rule 35 motion allowed this admitted major cocaine trafficker to leave prison immediately, having served a few months over two years.
The question, however, is not whether Blandon obtained favorable treatment. Cooperators have long received considerable sentence reductions, and the extent of these reductions have become even more significant in the era of mandatory minimums and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Frequently, particularly in the narcotics area, the more substantial the drug dealer, the better his contacts among high-level traffickers -- and therefore, the more able he is to assist in making cases that impress agents and prosecutors and thus lead to substantial sentence reductions. The question here is whether the benefits that Blandon received were in return for his cooperation or because of affiliation with the Contras or the CIA. The OIG has found no evidence whatsoever that the government's efforts to ensure a lower sentence for Blandon were based on anything other than its assessment of his cooperation. There is no evidence of any intervention by the CIA or any intelligence agency. Nor is there any evidence that Blandon received special consideration because of any affiliation with the Contras. While some undoubtedly would argue that the government should give more consideration to the extent of a defendant's prior criminal activity before cutting such a favorable deal, others could equally point out that the case against Blandon was not the strongest, and that the extraordinary leniency he received was commensurate with the extraordinary assistance he gave to the government. We will not resolve this debate, except to note that it extends far beyond the context of this case, is frequently and passionately debated among participants in the federal criminal justice system, and has little to do with the allegations this report addresses.
24. The Mercury News stated that O'Neale had described Blandon to a grand jury as "the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States." The OIG did not have access to grand jury records during this investigation, as this is not a criminal matter. The OIG is not aware of how Webb could have obtained the comments of a prosecutor before a grand jury, the release of which are made only under very rare circumstances, by court order.