Chapter VI: Ricky Ross
Ricky Ross was a central figure in the "Dark Alliance" series published in the San Jose Mercury News. According to the series, he not only was the trafficker who put Blandon's drugs on the street, he was the source of the crack epidemic in South Central Los Angeles, indeed, the entire United States. And, in an interesting twist, the series came to play a central role in the trial of Ross in 1996, when he tried to use its allegations as a shield against prosecution. In that case and elsewhere, Ross has claimed that he was the unwitting pawn of the United States government, which supplied him cocaine through Blandon, that he was unfairly targeted for prosecution, and that his prosecutors prevented him from getting a fair trial in which he could air his charges of official perfidy.
The OIG has endeavored to examine the facts behind Ross' claims. To this end, we interviewed, among others, Ross, Blandon, Ronald Lister, an FBI informant from Los Angeles (LA CI-1), and Blandon associates Ivan Torres and Carlos Rocha, as well as the law enforcement agents and the Assistant United States Attorney, L. J. O'Neale, involved in their prosecutions. Ross associate Ollie Newell refused our request to be interviewed while in prison in Indiana and did not return calls made to him after his release. The OIG also reviewed DEA and FBI files on Blandon and Ross; the trial transcripts and U.S. Attorney's Office files from the San Diego and Ohio prosecutions of Ross and the "Big Spender" trial in Los Angeles; and various statements made by Ross to the media.
A. Ross' Criminal History
Aside from the federal investigations and arrests of Ross (discussed below), his criminal record reflects a number of local arrests, but few convictions. A 1978 burglary charge was later dismissed. The disposition of a July 1981 arrest for assault with a deadly weapon is not indicated on Ross' criminal record, nor is the disposition for a March 1982 grand theft auto charge. He obtained an acquittal on July 1984 charges of receiving stolen property. An August 1984 charge for providing false identification to a police officer was later dismissed. In June 1986, Ross was again charged with grand theft auto, but the charges were dismissed the same day. On July 5, 1987, Ross was charged with assault with a firearm on a peace officer and possession for sale of a controlled substance. This charge was later dismissed due to police misconduct. (This charge will be discussed in detail below.) On November 29, 1989, Ross was arrested for assault on a police officer. According to the Presentence Report prepared by the United States Probation Department, this charge was dismissed on April 5, 1990 because of Ross' "pending federal cases in other states."
B. Ross' Statements about his Drug Empire to the Media and OIG
Even as Ross was avoiding prosecution, he was building a drug-dealing organization that, at the peak of his business in 1984 and 1985, according to Ross, was bringing him profits of $1 to $2 million a day. He later told Los Angeles Times writer Jessie Katz: "You know how some people feel that God put them down here to be a preacher? I felt that he had put me down to be the cocaine man." In this 1994 interview, Ross told of having workers that he paid $1,000 a week as bodyguards, lookouts, drivers, money counters, crack cookers, and garbage men to dispose of incriminating evidence. Katz wrote that Ross had converted "a curbside operation into ... the Wal-Mart of cocaine" and that "his coast-to-coast conglomerate was selling more than 500,000 rocks a day."
According to Katz, Ross would pick up million-dollar shipments in armed convoys of inconspicuous cars, one of which was always ready to speed off as a decoy. The organization's cookers used boat oars to convert huge pots of powder cocaine into crack, working in a "cook house" with digital scales and a restaurant quality gas stove. Ross told Katz that he had a money house with a one-ton safe and currency-counting machines, a crack house with an underground tunnel leading from a closet to the street, and a party house with a satellite dish, NBA-caliber basketball hoops, and a maid. He recalled that one day he just started counting money and ended up looking at a pile of over $2.8 million in cash. Katz reported that, "when the market exploded in 1984," Ross was dealing directly with the Colombian cartels, who supplied him with 50 to 100 kilos a day. With that, Ross was able to operate dozens of "rock houses;" operate three "ounce houses," which serviced hundreds of mid-level dealers; and service "his own private list of V.I.P. customers," about 30 to 50 "big-time dealers."
Ross told the OIG that at the height of his own dealing, he supplied kilograms of crack to customers in St. Louis, New Orleans, Texas, Kansas City, Oklahoma, Indiana, Seattle and other cities in California. Some people just bought quantities of crack on a regular basis. Others were more like partners, whom Ross would teach the business and take a share of the profits. Ross also ran crack houses in Los Angeles where he distributed his own crack. The buyers at Ross' crack houses were generally buying for resale on the street corner, not for personal consumption. Ross stated: "What we called it was like, we called it the double-up, you know, when you go and you spend $100, and you can make $100. So it was like a job almost where you can invest. If you got $100 to invest, you can turn $100 into $200." Ross noted that "thousands" of people worked for him at the height of his business, and that he directly controlled about 30 people.