E. Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Investigation of Blandon
At the time the FBI and DEA were looking into the drug trafficking activities of Blandon's organization, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD), in conjunction with other local law enforcement authorities, was independently pursuing its own inquiry. The LASD investigation culminated in searches in October 1986 of 13 residences and businesses occupied by Blandon and his associates. In 1996, responding to the allegations in the San Jose Mercury News about the LASD's case involving the search warrants, the LASD conducted a review of the case, interviewing numerous LASD deputy sheriffs and others involved in that investigation. Their findings were described in a detailed report (the "LASD Report").
According to the LASD Report, the LASD investigation of Blandon began in 1986 when Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigators looking into a Colombian money laundering operation in Bell, California, provided information about that operation to a Bell Police Department officer, Jerry Guzzetta. On August 9, 1986, Guzzetta used this information to obtain search warrants that led to the seizure of a substantial amount of drugs and currency. The operation also produced an informant or informants who described three major Colombian drug trafficking organizations and a fourth dealer, Danilo Blandon, who was said to be a "peripheral" source of supply for the "black cocaine market" in Los Angeles, which was led by "Rick" and "Ollie" [Rick Ross and Ollie Newell]. Blandon was said to work with an ex-Laguna Beach Police Officer by the name of "Ronnie" [Ronald Lister], who was reported to have transported 100 kilos of cocaine to the "black market" in Los Angeles and millions of dollars to Miami for Blandon. Blandon's source of supply was alleged to be a Colombian dealer.
In early September 1986, Guzzetta provided this information to Deputy Sheriff Thomas Gordon of the LASD "Major Violators Team II," a unit of deputy sheriffs assigned to investigate major drug traffickers.(8) As a result of this information, a team of LASD deputies led by LASD Sergeant Ed Huffman began investigating the Blandon organization, primarily through surveillance and collecting informant information on Blandon and his associates.
In September 1986, Aukland and Schrettner learned that the LASD was also investigating the Blandon organization and had an informant providing specific information about drug trafficking by Blandon and Lister. Aukland and Schrettner met with LASD deputy sheriffs and shared the information from their informants with them. In mid-October 1986, Aukland, Schrettner, and another DEA agent assisted the LASD in conducting surveillances of Blandon's businesses, Guerra Auto Sales and Nicamex Taco restaurant. Aukland and Schrettner surveilled Blandon's house and businesses and shared their observations with Deputy Sheriff Gordon.
1. Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Affidavit in Support of the Search Warrants
On October 23, 1986, LASD Deputy Sheriff Gordon applied for search warrants covering fourteen locations associated with the Blandon drug trafficking organization, including Guerra Auto Sales, Nicamex Taco Restaurant, and several residences believed to be occupied by Blandon, Lister, Roberto Aguilar, Ivan Torres, and Aparicio Moreno. Gordon's affidavit purported to be based on information from four sources. According to the LASD Report, Gordon received the information from Guzzetta, LASD Deputy Sheriff Richard Wenig, Aukland, and Schrettner.
The affidavit stated that the first informant (Guzzetta's informant) had reported that the highest ranking member of the drug organization was Blandon, who had several businesses and residences that he used for the distribution and storage of cocaine. Ronald Lister, described as a close associate of Blandon, was said to operate a private investigation agency named Pyramid International Security Consultants Corporation, and to store and transport cocaine for Blandon. Roberto Aguilar was said to handle large cocaine transactions when Blandon was out of town.
The affidavit also stated that Gordon had learned through Deputy Sheriff Wenig that the DEA had conducted two investigations of Blandon and Lister over the past three years. The affidavit further reported that Wenig had placed Gordon in contact with an informant who said that Blandon was a Contra sympathizer and founder of the FDN and that "[t]he money and arms generated by this organization comes thru [sic] the sales of cocaine." This informant was said to have provided one hundred names of persons involved with the distribution of cocaine, all of whom were either Nicaraguan and/or sympathizers to the Contra movement.
On October 23, 1986, Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Glennette Blackwell signed the search warrants based upon Gordon's affidavit.
When interviewed in 1996 by the LASD for its report, Deputy Sheriff Wenig said that he doubted he had provided any information to Gordon about the Blandon organization, and that he was "99.9 percent" positive that he had not provided an informant to Gordon. We interviewed Wenig also, and he similarly denied that he was the source of the information in the affidavit or that he had any informant who had provided this information. As to the information attributed to Wenig that the DEA had two previous investigations of Blandon and Lister, he said that he may have been asked by Gordon to run a computerized name check seeking federal information on Blandon. The DEA's NADDIS (Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System) database contained information from several sources concerning Blandon, but, as we described above, the DEA had not conducted investigations of him before 1986.
Gordon's affidavit also summarized information about the Blandon organization that came from Schrettner's and Aukland's informants and described several surveillances of Blandon and his associates. It stated that on October 17, 1986, LASD Deputy Sheriff Eufrasio Cortez had entered Guerra Auto Sales posing as a customer and, on opening an office door, had seen "four male Latins." One of them had appeared startled and quickly threw a jacket over a "triple beam scale" sitting on the file cabinet. Cortez was escorted out of the office. When interviewed later in connection with the LASD Report, Cortez said that this incident never occurred, and that Gordon had simply fabricated this part of the affidavit to support probable cause for the warrant. Cortez said that Gordon, who had been his partner, commonly made things up.
2. Execution of the Search Warrants
On October 24, 1986, the LASD held a meeting to plan how teams of LASD deputy sheriffs, assisted by federal and state agents, would execute the warrants.(9) A document prepared by the LASD in connection with this meeting, entitled "Background & Operational Plan," noted that the investigation was a joint effort by the LASD, the Bell Police Department, the FBI, and the DEA. It related that the Blandon organization was believed to be moving hundreds of kilos of cocaine a month in the southern California area and laundering proceeds through a variety of business fronts. The document reported that money was then sent to Florida, where it allegedly went to purchase arms to aid the Contras.(10)
During the morning of October 27, 1986, teams of LASD deputies, with assistance from local and federal agents, including Aukland, Schrettner, and several other DEA agents, executed searches at 12 of the locations listed in the warrants and one additional location. A deputy sheriff on each team filed a "supplementary report" after the searches describing what occurred at each location and what evidence was seized. A "Master Narcotics Evidence Control Ledger" also noted the location from which each piece of evidence was seized and its final disposition.
According to these documents and statements from the deputy sheriffs, the only drugs seized during the searches were a folded paper with approximately one gram of cocaine, a folded ten dollar bill with approximately 1/12 gram of cocaine, and another folded paper with approximately .3 grams of cocaine, all found at Blandon's house. Blandon and his wife Chepita Blandon were arrested by the LASD for possession of a controlled substance. Several weapons, ammunition, $163, and miscellaneous papers were also listed as having been seized from Blandon's house. According to the LASD supplementary report covering Blandon's residence, he spontaneously stated when he was being taken from the house, "the cocaine is mine, the cocaine is mine, it's mine." Blandon subsequently denied making any such statements.
a. Search of Blandon's Residence
DEA agent Schrettner told us that he went to Blandon's house when the search warrant was served, but he is not listed on the LASD supplementary report as being present. Schrettner recalled that an ounce of cocaine was seized from Blandon's house, but he was not involved in the seizure and he did not remember who seized the drugs or where in the house they were found. The LASD Report lists DEA Special Agent Ron Piero as assisting in the search of Blandon's house, but Piero told us he had no recollection at all of this search.
Among the documents seized from Blandon's house were bank statements that appeared to be related to Contra financial activities. As we describe in more detail in Chapter IV below, Blandon told us that the documents were sent to him from his sister, Leysla Balladares, who lived in San Francisco. He said the documents were copies of bank accounts maintained by Contra leaders, and these records indicated that the Contra leaders were stealing from money donated to the Contras and that these records did not relate to him or his drug trafficking. He said his sister had sent him the documents because she thought he would be interested in them.
b. Search of Ronald Lister's residences
LASD deputy sheriffs searched Ronald Lister's house on Lagarto Drive, Mission Viejo, but no federal agents participated in this search. At Lister's house, the deputies seized video monitors, a box of training manuals, card files, check books, military training films, mail, financial information, and ammunition. When a neighbor told the deputies that Lister had moved to an address on Barlomento Road in Mission Viejo, the deputies went there, even though it was not a location listed in the search warrant. Lister was at the Barlomento residence, and he consented to a search of that house. Deputy Sheriff Robert Juarez included the following in his supplementary report covering this search:
I spoke with Mr. Lester [sic] who told me that he had dealings in South America & worked with the CIA and added that his friends in Washington weren't going to like what was going on. I told Mr Lester that we were not interested in his business in South America. Mr. Lester replied that he would call Mr. Weekly of the CIA and report me.
As we describe in further detail in the chapter of this report on Lister, the LASD found no drugs in the search of Lister's Barlomento Road residence, but they did seize various documents, including photographs, financial statements, and a 10-page handwritten document with names, phone numbers, a flowchart, and a description of various meetings. This document also contained the phrase: "In meantime I had regular meeting with DIA Sub contractor Scott Weekly. Scott had worked in El Salvador for us. Meeting concern my relationship w the Contra grp. in Cent. Am. At that time I asked him about scramblers syst. I might buy to sell." It added: "Said he could get one for me to sell if I had a customer. Want $10,000-for it. As he had to share cost w someone in DIA." In the LASD "Master Narcotics Evidence Control Ledger," Deputy Juarez made a note that miscellaneous "CIA info" had been seized at Lister's Barlomento residence. When later interviewed in connection with the LASD Report, Juarez attributed this description to his own preoccupation with Lister's claimed CIA involvement, and stated that none of the documents had carried any insignia or stamp of the CIA.
When Lister was interviewed in 1996 in connection with the LASD Report, he said that during the search of his house, the deputies had found various weapons, pictures, and items that were tagged "not for sale in the United States" and were related to his legal weapons business. Lister claimed that the deputies were fascinated by the items and began to discuss their belief that Lister might be associated with the CIA. Lister admitted making the statement that he could make one call and "you'd all go away," but he claimed he was referring to a call to his attorney.
When we interviewed him, Lister also denied saying that he would call Mr. Weekly or anyone in the CIA. Lister said that he did talk about making a telephone call, but his intention was to call his attorney. Lister stated that he did not tell the deputy sheriffs that he worked for the CIA or that what he was doing was CIA approved. Lister said that when the deputies began finding his security equipment and paperwork, they asked him what he was involved in and whether he worked with the CIA. Lister said he replied, "are you kidding?" and denied he was connected to the government.
In FBI files, however, we found a cable dated November 17, 1986, from Aukland to FBI Headquarters, which reported:
During the service of the 14 search warrants by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office . . . it was noted that subject Lister commented that his "CIA contact," Mr. Weekly, would not appreciate this intrusion. Lister has allegedly been selling arms to South American countries or insurgents. In addition, documents obtained during the search indicated that Lister has been in contact with a Scott Weekly, "DIA" (possible Defense Intelligence Agency).
This cable was apparently based on information that the LASD Deputy Sheriffs who searched Lister's residence gave to Aukland, who decided to ask the CIA and DEA about it. In his cable, Aukland asked FBI Headquarters to contact the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to determine whether those agencies were involved in operations with the subjects of Aukland's investigation, including Blandon, Lister, Norwin Meneses, Orlando Murillo, and Aparicio Moreno.
FBI Headquarters forwarded a request to CIA Headquarters and the Defense Intelligence Agency asking them to advise the FBI "whether or not any of the captioned subjects are currently of operational interest to your agency." On December 18, 1987, the CIA responded that it had information that Norwin Meneses Cantarero was involved in drug activities in Costa Rica, and that he was called the kingpin of narcotics traffickers in Nicaragua. The CIA replied further that Orlando Murillo had been described as a former official with the Swiss bank in Managua. The CIA stated that it had no traces on anyone else mentioned. On December 30, 1986, the DIA responded to the FBI that none of the subjects listed "are of operational interest to DIA," and that "available records show that `Scott Weekly' is not employed by DIA nor has he received a clearance through DIA."
c. Search of Roberto Aguilar's residence
Along with LASD deputies, DEA Special Agent Hector Berrellez (now retired) participated in the search of the residence of Roberto Aguilar. The supplementary report filed by the LASD covering this search stated that the deputies seized paperwork and photographs and listed the seized evidence as "Misc. paperwork & utility bill; personal letter address to Roberto Aguilar, misc. photographs." When we interviewed Berrellez, he said there was a safe at the house, which the occupants were told to open. Inside, Berrellez found a box containing photographs and ledgers typical of those that big drug dealers keep. Berrellez said the photographs were of men in military uniforms and military operations. He said he specifically remembered a photograph of a man in an aviator's flight suit standing before a war plane and holding an automatic weapon.
3. Issues Regarding the Search
Various allegations have been raised concerning the October 1986 search warrant and the LASD investigation of Blandon and his associates. This section discusses the allegations relating to the federal role in the searches.
a. Allegation that federal authorities impeded the LASD investigation
According to one allegation, federal agents sought to obstruct the LASD investigation by asking it not to execute the search warrants. The LASD Report describes the recollections of certain deputy sheriffs as hearing at some point, perhaps at the pre-search warrant briefing on October 24, 1986, that federal agents did not want the LASD to go forward with its case. A chronology prepared by LASD Sergeant Huffman shortly after the search warrant was executed also states "FBI Riverside asks Majors II [the LASD unit] to hold back investigation."
We have found no evidence of any such alleged obstruction. Aukland told us that, even though Deputy Sheriff Gordon had said the LASD had a good case against Blandon and his associates, Aukland and Schrettner preferred that no search warrant be executed while the FBI and DEA were in the process of developing their own cases. But once Gordon indicated that the LASD was going forward, Aukland and the DEA agreed to assist the LASD. Schrettner, too, recalls that he and Aukland did not want to impede the LASD execution of the search warrants. Indeed, Schrettner and Aukland thought that a seizure of drugs in these raids would strengthen the federal case.
Sergeant Huffman, who led the LASD investigation of Blandon, confirmed to us that the FBI and DEA cooperated with the LASD rather than impeded it. In addition, contemporaneous reports make clear that federal agents participated in surveillances with the LASD, shared information from their own surveillances, provided information used to support Gordon's search warrant application, and actually assisted in the execution of the search warrants.
The FBI and DEA would have liked the LASD to hold off the raids while they continued their own investigation -- a position that in retrospect was clearly justified by the fact that negligible drugs were seized and no cases were made based on the searches. But there is no evidence that the FBI or DEA tried to obstruct the LASD's investigation once the LASD decided to proceed.
b. Allegation that Blandon was tipped off about the warrants
The allegation has also been made that the Blandon organization was tipped off about the search warrants in advance, perhaps by the CIA or other federal authorities, which would explain why the warrants recovered so little of value. Some of the local law enforcement authorities involved in the searches have speculated that federal agents may have "burned" the operation by informing someone in the Blandon organization about the warrant in advance. The San Jose Mercury News quotes others who suggest that the CIA may have compromised the raids. The evidence we found indicates that Blandon and others knew that the organization was under surveillance before the warrants were served and therefore changed operations. But we did not find that anyone intentionally tipped off Blandon's organization about the impending raids.
Evidence that Blandon had some foreknowledge of imminent enforcement action comes from a variety of sources. In January 1987, as part of the later federal investigation, LA CI-1 met with Blandon, and Blandon himself told LA CI-1 that he had expected to be raided for two reasons: First, according to Blandon, shortly before October 27, Norwin Meneses had his property searched in Costa Rica. Second, about two weeks before the October 27 raids, Blandon began to notice that he was under surveillance.
When Blandon later cooperated with the federal authorities after his arrest in 1992, (as discussed in section K below), he said to Assistant U.S. Attorney L J O'Neale in San Diego that a friend had alerted Blandon that two FBI agents had been asking about him a few weeks prior to the execution of the search warrants in October 1986. As a result, Blandon grew suspicious and had stopped operating his drug business from his properties. Blandon provided similar information to DEA Special Agent Chuck Jones, who arrested Blandon in 1992.
When we interviewed Blandon, he reiterated that he had not been tipped off by any government officials, but had known that he was under investigation before the search warrants were executed. He said that about a month before the search, Carlos Rocha had reported to Blandon that the FBI had questioned Rocha and said that they were looking for Blandon. Rocha had advised Blandon to watch out. Blandon also said that he began noticing in the rear view mirror of his car that he was being followed. He therefore "cleaned everything" from his house about a month before the search. An incident two days before the warrants were executed heightened his suspicions even further. After Blandon's dog bit someone who had jumped over the fence to his house, someone later left a note with Blandon's maid stating that the dog had to get rabies shots. Blandon suspected the person whom the dog had bitten was a police officer.
When we interviewed Carlos Rocha, he gave us a similar account. He said that in July or August 1986, two FBI agents questioned him about Blandon. Rocha told the FBI agents that he had not seen anything suspicious, then reported to Blandon that the FBI was asking about him. Blandon was angry when Rocha said that he had told the FBI about Orlando Murillo, Blandon's rich uncle in Miami.(11)
Ronald Lister also has claimed that he noticed police surveillance just before the execution of the search warrants. When interviewed for the LASD Report, he said that a week before the search warrants were executed, his former neighbors had advised him that men with radios were watching his previous residence in Mission Viejo and taking notes. He then noticed people observing Guerra Auto Sales, and saw that he was being followed. Lister said he assumed it was federal agents watching him, and he claimed he told Blandon about this. Lister told us a similar version of events when we interviewed him.
Hector Berrellez, the DEA agent who participated in the search of Roberto Aguilar's house, told us that the occupants of the house knew that the search warrant was coming and said that they were expecting the police. Berrellez said he did not question the occupants about how they knew, although he said he has a vague recollection of some "talk" -- he was not sure from whom but thought it was from Schrettner -- that the CIA may have monitored the LASD case through the DEA's intelligence center (EPIC). We found nothing to corroborate Berrellez's vague recollection, and Schrettner said he did not know of any CIA involvement in the Blandon case. Schrettner said that he heard from LASD personnel that a defense attorney may have made some claim about CIA involvement (see section E below), but he knew of no monitoring of the case by the CIA through the DEA intelligence center. According to the DEA, it is not possible for the CIA to monitor any case through EPIC. The DEA intelligence center reported that they received no query from the CIA about the case, and that the intelligence center would not share any such information with the CIA in any event.
In sum, the evidence suggests that before the search warrants were served, Blandon believed he was under investigation and changed operations, which is why no drugs were found. However, there is no evidence to support the allegation that any federal agency, including the CIA, deliberately tipped off Blandon or any of his associates.
c. Allegation that drugs were planted and money stolen during the search of Blandon's residence
Blandon has alleged in interviews with the OIG and previously that the deputy sheriffs planted the small amount of drugs they said was recovered from his house. He denied ever stating that cocaine found in the house was his, and he also claimed that the LASD deputies stole a briefcase containing thousands of dollars from his house during the execution of the warrant.
The LASD Report analyzes the allegation of theft of funds and planting of drugs in great detail. It notes that several of the deputy sheriffs who assisted in the search warrant were later accused of stealing money from various drug dealers and planting evidence and were convicted in 1990 in the "Big Spender" case prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. Deputy Sheriff John Hurtado specifically admitted to the LASD investigators that he took approximately $50,000 in cash from a briefcase in a bedroom at Blandon's house. None of the sheriffs who were interviewed by the LASD, however, admitted that drugs were planted in Blandon's house. Deputy Sheriff Daniel Garner said that he found one "bindle" of cocaine left haphazardly in Blandon's house, which he thought Blandon may simply have forgotten about. At no point in our inquiry did we find any reason to believe that the DEA and FBI agents who assisted the execution of the searches, including Schrettner and Aukland, had any involvement in or knowledge of any misconduct in connection with the search of Blandon's house.
d. Allegation concerning CIA interference in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department investigation
(1) Lister's statements
As discussed above, Lister allegedly made statements about his CIA contact to the deputy sheriffs who searched his house. As we will discuss more fully in the chapter of this report on Lister, we find it likely that Lister did in fact make statements to the deputy sheriffs executing the warrant that he had ties to the CIA or worked for the CIA. Lister routinely made such statements to others. But, as we discuss in the chapter on Lister, we found no evidence that Lister actually did work for the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency, as he claimed. Nor did we find evidence that the CIA interceded in any way on his behalf during the LASD's investigation or the FBI and DEA investigations concerning Lister or the Blandon organization.
(2) Statements by Blandon's attorney
According to LASD Sergeant Huffman, after Blandon was arrested in connection with the search of his house on October 27, 1986, Blandon's attorney, Bradley Brunon, called Huffman and complained about the arrest of Blandon. Brunon allegedly said that he thought the "CIA winked at this sort of thing," referring to efforts by Blandon to raise funds for the Contras.
Brunon's comment is also contained in the chronology Huffman wrote shortly after the search, and Huffman told us he remembers Brunon making this statement. Huffman also apparently relayed Brunon's statement to FBI agent Aukland after the call. In a November 17, 1986, teletype to FBI Headquarters, Aukland wrote:
The LACSO [Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office] also said Danilo Blandon's attorney, Mr Brunon Bradley [sic]. . . telephonically contacted the LACSO on 10/27/86. Bradley said he thought the "CIA winked at this sort of thing." He indicated that now that the U.S. Congress has voted to fund the Nicaraguan Contra movement, the U.S. Government now appears to be turning against organizations like this. He did not specifically discuss drug trafficking or arms sales, but only referred generally to Blandon's and Lister's "activities." He at first represented Aparicio Moreno, but said he knew Lister and Blandon. Later the same day he indicated he was now representing Blandon.
According to the LASD report, Brunon told the LASD investigators in 1996 that he did not think he made the statement attributed to him by Huffman. He said he knew that Blandon was a sympathizer of Somoza but he had not heard that Blandon had any involvement with the CIA. Brunon said that even if he had heard this claim, he would not have made a comment to the LASD about it.
When we interviewed Brunon, he similarly stated that he had no information that Blandon was involved with the CIA, that Blandon had never reported that to Brunon, and that he never saw anything to make him believe that Blandon had a connection to the CIA. Brunon stated that he has had much contact with Sergeant Huffman over the years and did not want to deny making the statement Huffman attributed to him. But Brunon stated that he did not recall saying it. Brunon told us that charges were never filed against Blandon based on the 1986 search because there was simply not a case to be made, not because of any CIA involvement. Brunon said he never heard or believed a prosecution of Blandon was not pursued because of national security interests or Blandon's relationship with the Contras. Brunon also said he knew that Blandon was a Contra supporter, but Brunon had no direct knowledge that Blandon gave any money to the Contras.
Brunon also is quoted in the San Jose Mercury News articles as stating that Blandon was definitely involved with drugs and "probably" involved with the CIA. Brunon told us that the quote in the paper was a simplification of a discussion he had with reporter Gary Webb in which Brunon had outlined the "possibility" of a link between Blandon and the CIA based on public information about the Contras, their funding problems, and "rumors" that Brunon had heard around 1991. These rumors came from deputy sheriffs, whose names he could not reveal because of the attorney-client privilege. He stated that the deputies had no specific information supporting these claims and that he viewed their stories as largely "apocryphal."
e. Allegation that evidence obtained during the searches was taken by federal authorities from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department
In the trial of the deputy sheriffs for corruption in 1990, one defense attorney, Harlan Braun, alleged that after the LASD search warrants were executed on October 27, 1986, federal authorities seized the evidence that had been found during the LASD searches. The LASD Report addressed this allegation extensively, discussing the handling and eventual disposition of the seized evidence. It concluded that, while the federal agents copied seized documents, there was no evidence that they removed any evidence from LASD custody. We have reached the same conclusion.
Aukland explained to us that, following the searches, he had heard that defense attorneys were complaining about the seizure of documents and that the LASD intended to return the documents to their owners. Aukland said that he, Schrettner, and an IRS agent who was assigned to help in the federal investigation went to the LASD and made copies of documents seized during the search. Aukland said that he quickly copied about 10 inches of documents. This is confirmed by Aukland's investigative report, dated November 10, 1986, which we found in FBI files. The report states that on October 31, 1986 and November 3, 1986, numerous documents were copied by agents of the FBI, DEA, and IRS. A later investigative report stated that 1112 pages were copied.
LASD Sergeant Huffman confirmed that federal agents copied the documents that were seized during the execution of the warrants but did not remove any materials. Moreover, his chronology, written shortly after the searches, states "All seized documents copied by FBI, DEA & IRS Riverside." The LASD evidence log notes that, several months after the searches, many of the documents were released to attorneys representing Blandon and Lister, and other documents were either retained by the property custodian permanently, or destroyed after a period of time according to LASD guidelines.
In our investigation, we had some difficulty tracking down the documents that had been copied by Aukland. He said that the FBI should have the documents in its files, but in response to our repeated requests the FBI was unable to locate these documents, either in its southern California offices or in FBI Headquarters. Our interviews revealed that Aukland showed copies of these documents to Crossan Andersen, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked on the federal investigation of Blandon in 1986 and 1987 (described in section F below), and that these documents were later seen by other Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's Office. However, the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's Office was also unable to locate these documents in its files. We were told by DEA agents that they had seen the documents in the U.S. Attorney's Office in 1990 and that they may have sent the documents to DEA Headquarters around that time, but the DEA could not locate these documents.
We did, however, receive from IRS files a box with copies of documents that had been seized during the search. Laura Hillhouse, an IRS agent who assisted Aukland in his investigation and took over the tax case when the FBI closed its investigation of Blandon in 1987 (see section H below), provided the documents to us from IRS files. She told us that she had received the documents from either Aukland or the previous IRS agent assigned to the case, and she had made copies of them which she provided to us. The box contains over 1000 pages of documents, including the documents seized from Blandon's house which were described in Aukland's memorandum to FBI Headquarters, documents from Guerra Auto Sales, from Lister's house, and from other places searched.
f. Allegation concerning dismissal of drug possession charges against Blandon and his wife
Although Blandon and his wife were arrested for the small amount of cocaine that the LASD allegedly found in their house, which Blandon claimed had been planted, those charges were dropped by the LASD. The San Jose Mercury News articles implied that Blandon may have been protected by the CIA and that the charges were dropped at its behest. We have found no evidence to support this charge.
As noted above, in the course of the October 27 searches, certain seized documents and certain statements by Lister and others suggested that the subjects of the LASD investigation might have had some connection to the Contras or even to the CIA. But there is no reason to believe that these vague and suspect indications played any part in the LASD's decision to drop the charges against Blandon for drug possession. And certainly there is no evidence that any federal authorities urged that the charges be dropped as part of an effort to protect Blandon or others. To the contrary, all the available evidence supports the account that Sergeant Huffman reported to us: that the LASD decided not to pursue minor state charges, and instead transferred the evidence that had been developed to the federal authorities, because those authorities had the investigative and prosecutorial resources to pursue a broader investigation of Blandon, and not because of any pressure by anyone on the LASD. Huffman added that the LASD is not the type of agency that would back off on any case because of pressure.
Huffman's handwritten chronology, written soon after the warrants were served, corroborates his account to us:
F. S/W Affidavit sealed
1. Riverside DEA & FBI will continue investigation . . .
G. No case filed to protect on going investigation & informants.
1. Very small amount of cocaine found @ 1 of 14 locations."
DEA Special Agent Schrettner and Aukland also reported that the LASD closed its case and agreed that the federal authorities should take it over. A January 14, 1987, meeting between LASD deputies, federal agents, and Assistant District Attorney Susan Bryant-Deason (which we describe below) further confirms this point.
In short, we cannot say for certain whether drugs were in fact planted in Blandon's house, as alleged by Blandon, or whether that allegation affected the LASD's willingness to drop the charges. Nevertheless, the charges appeared to have been dismissed and the affidavit sealed to allow the federal authorities to proceed with their investigation, not because of any pressure by federal authorities or the CIA.
8. In 1990, Deputy Gordon was convicted of federal tax charges in connection with the "Big Spender" trial, which is described in Chapter IV of this report. This trial showed that various LASD deputy sheriffs, including Gordon, had stolen drugs and money from the drug traffickers they were investigating. Gordon refused requests to be interviewed in connection with the LASD Report, and our attempts to interview him were also unsuccessful.
9. According to a chronology prepared by LASD Sergeant Huffman just after the search warrants were executed, no DEA or FBI agents attended this meeting. FBI and DEA documents also indicate that no FBI or DEA agents were present. Aukland and Schrettner also told us they do not remember attending this planning meeting.
10. The LASD Report describes the contradictory recollections of various LASD deputies who attended the briefing as to what was said concerning the Contras and other matters. One deputy recalled Deputy Sheriff Gordon stating that the suspects were associated with the Contras and that profits from drug sales were used to purchase weapons for them. Another said that he heard at the briefing that the "feds" had not wanted the LASD to execute the warrant and that the LASD had received inquiries from the CIA about one of the suspects. Other deputies did not recall such statements being made, and the LASD found no other support for this claim.
11. We interviewed the two FBI agents who Rocha said had interrogated him. Both said they did not speak to Rocha during this time period, and we found nothing in FBI files relating to any contact with Rocha around this time.