L. Blandon's Improper Receipt of a Green Card
The sentencing discounts given to Blandon were authorized by law. The same cannot be said, however, about the decision to give Blandon legal permanent residence status (LPR status), also known as a "green card." His felony drug conviction made him ineligible for such status. As detailed in this section, we determined that Blandon did indeed receive his LPR status improperly, as a result of INS agent Tellez's intervention in the matter. We did not find, however, any evidence that Blandon's receipt of this benefit had anything to do with his alleged affiliation with the Contras or the CIA.
Obtaining LPR status is a significant benefit because, after holding this status for five years, an alien can apply to become a United States citizen. But under normal circumstances in October 1994, an alien with an "aggravated felony conviction" was not eligible to receive LPR status. An aggravated felony, defined in the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), includes illicit trafficking in a controlled substance. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(B). The offense pled to by Blandon in 1992, conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it, clearly fell within this definition. Ordinarily, an alien convicted of an aggravated felony should be deported, and cannot reenter the United States for twenty years. 8 C.F.R. § 212.2.
The fact that Blandon was cooperating extensively with law enforcement could have led the government to delay his deportation but did not make him eligible for LPR status. Nevertheless, in October 1994, INS agent Tellez arranged for Blandon to be given LPR status.(25) After reading a newspaper article on August 29, 1996, alleging that Blandon was involved in the sale of cocaine to fund the Contras, INS Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Robert Butler, in the San Diego INS District Office, Investigations Branch, reviewed Blandon's alien file. Thereafter, Butler filed a complaint with the San Diego office of the OIG against SA Tellez, because Butler believed that Tellez had knowingly allowed Blandon to obtain LPR status improperly. On December 12, 1996, the INS moved to rescind Blandon's LPR status. That action is now pending.
2. Blandon Obtains his Green Card
As discussed above, Blandon received his status as a political asylee in August 1985. He applied for LPR status on September 26, 1988, at the Miami office of the INS. In his application he acknowledged his 1986 arrest by the LASD, stating that no complaint had been filed. He answered in the negative the questions regarding whether he had been an "illicit trafficker in narcotic drugs." This application was pending at the time of his arrest.
When interviewed by the OIG, Tellez and the DEA agents who worked with Blandon explained how the problem concerning LPR status arose.(26) According to a letter written by Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale, while Blandon was cooperating with the DEA, the government decided not to proceed with deportation proceedings against him. But his legal status needed to be addressed if his undercover work was to take him abroad. Blandon did not need INS travel documents to travel out of the United States -- he could have traveled on his Nicaraguan passport -- but he would have needed some kind of authorization to return, unless agents were present to arrange for his entry, which would not be practical if he were acting in an undercover capacity.
The routine travel document that Blandon had used prior to his arrest, issued by the INS on January 25, 1991, had expired on January 25, 1993. In 1994, after Blandon began cooperating with the government, INS agent Tellez was asked by DEA and Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale to obtain new documents for Blandon. Tellez was the INS liaison on the OCDETF committee in San Diego. There is no evidence that Tellez was specifically asked by anyone to obtain LPR status for Blandon; he was asked only to ensure that Blandon could travel in and out of the United States while involved in undercover work for the DEA.
Tellez could have properly accomplished the task he was given in any of four ways, each of which would have allowed Blandon to stay in the United States only so long as he cooperated. None of these procedures would have given Blandon LPR status. The first would have been to arrange for the INS to issue an Order to Show Cause (OSC) for his deportation based on Blandon's aggravated felony conviction, but hold it in abeyance on the basis of a request from the U.S. Attorney's Office. Blandon would then have remained a political asylee and the INS could have issued him a new travel document. He would have been deported after his usefulness as an informant had ended. Second, with the approval of the INS Assistant District Director for Investigations, the INS could have elected not to issue an OSC until after his cooperation was completed. In this case, Blandon would have remained a political asylee and could obtain new travel documents but would remain subject to deportation at the end of his cooperation with the DEA. The third way would have been to deport Blandon, but then have DEA Headquarters request that he be paroled back in for the period of his cooperation with law enforcement. At the end of the parole period, INS could either request an extension or seek Blandon's deportation. Fourth, the INS could issue an OSC and obtain an order for deportation from an immigration judge, but then stay the order. Had this method been used, however, Blandon would have had to be paroled back into the United States if he traveled abroad.
Tellez did not use any of these methods. When interviewed by the OIG, Tellez said that, in September 1994, he had taken Blandon to meet with INS Immigration Examiner Loren Montgomery, in San Diego. According to Tellez, he told Montgomery that Blandon was a convicted drug dealer cooperating with OCDETF investigations and that Blandon needed travel documents to continue his undercover work. Even though Tellez conceded to us that Blandon had never told him of any involvement with the CIA or the Contras, Tellez told Montgomery that Blandon's family had been ousted by the Sandinistas and that Blandon knew people who had contacts with the CIA and the Contras. Tellez explained to the OIG that he said this to impress Montgomery into expediting Blandon's application. As discussed above, Tellez had heard rumors that Blandon was involved with the CIA and had been present when Blandon was debriefed by the DEA and outlined his participation with the Contras.
Tellez also maintained that he reported to Montgomery that Blandon was a convicted felon, and that Montgomery had explained to Tellez that Blandon was still eligible for LPR status because Blandon had received the visa number required for LPR status prior to his conviction. Tellez said that he had asked Montgomery to expedite Blandon's application because Blandon needed to travel out of the country. Montgomery placed a call to the INS office in Arlington, Texas to put a rush on Blandon's LPR application. But about six to eight weeks later, Montgomery told Tellez that the application had been lost. In March 1995, Tellez brought Blandon to see Montgomery again, and Montgomery resubmitted the paperwork via facsimile.
Montgomery gave a very different account to the OIG. He stated that Tellez had not informed him that Blandon had been convicted of drug trafficking. Tellez told him only that Blandon was an informant for the OCDETF and needed travel documents. Montgomery said he was not aware that Blandon was incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in San Diego or in any jail. Montgomery thereafter approved Blandon's application for LPR status because it appeared that the requirements had been met: Montgomery had called the INS Headquarters (HQ) in Washington, D.C., and, upon being referred to the Asylum Office in Florida, he had learned that Blandon's name was in the Asylee Adjustment Report, indicating that he was eligible for LPR status, and that Blandon had been assigned a visa number.(27) Montgomery verified that the one-year waiting period had passed and that a visa number was available.
Tellez also told the OIG that, before he ever brought Blandon to see Montgomery, he had advised Montgomery's supervisor, Jerry Klos, Assistant District Director for Examinations in the INS San Diego District Office, that Blandon was a convicted felon cooperating with the OCDETF who needed travel documents. Tellez related that Klos had called an INS office in Washington, D.C., to determine whether Blandon was on the list for visa availability, and had been informed that Blandon was on the list of asylees who had previously been granted visas.
Klos gave a very different account to OIG investigators. He said that Tellez not only failed to mention that Blandon was a convicted felon; he never even discussed Blandon with Klos. Had he known that Blandon was a convicted felon, Klos would not have allowed Blandon's application for adjustment to LPR to be approved. Klos recalled that Tellez had contacted him about obtaining a green card or LPR status for "someone," and had left Klos with the impression that "someone" was an OCDETF informant who was eligible to get his green card but had not received it. Klos had referred Tellez to Montgomery, and only later did he realize that the unidentified informant was Blandon.
Without notification from Tellez (or Blandon), neither Montgomery nor Klos would likely have learned on his own that Blandon was a convicted felon. The paperwork that Tellez presented in connection with Blandon's application (which OIG has reviewed) did not mention that fact. Montgomery said he relied on the application for LPR status that was already in Blandon's INS Alien file. Because Blandon had filled out this application on September 26, 1988, prior to his conviction on drug trafficking charges, it contained no mention of the conviction. Nor did anything else in Blandon's alien file contain any reference to his conviction. According to SSA Butler, Tellez had custody of Blandon's alien file between April 1991 and August 1996, and had failed to place important documents (arrest report, Judgment and Commitment Order, plea agreement, and sentencing report) in it. It is INS policy and practice that a certified copy of a Judgment and Commitment Order should be placed in the alien file because the order directly affects an alien's ability to obtain certain benefits from the INS, such as an adjustment of status and naturalization.
Tellez told OIG investigators that he had placed the Judgment and Commitment Order in his working file, but not in the Blandon alien file, which was the file given to Montgomery. Tellez explained that he had handled Blandon's case differently from his normal practice because Blandon had served his entire sentence in a local facility, instead of being transferred to a federal correctional institution (FCI). Tellez stated that, if Blandon had been transferred to an FCI, his alien file would have gone with him and Tellez would have updated it before transferring the file. Tellez said he maintained all the information on Blandon in his work file, and never had cause to update the alien file because no request was ever made for it. Tellez admitted that only the alien file was given to Montgomery for review.
The only document in the Alien file that might have alerted Montgomery to Blandon's conviction was the INS detainer that was in the file. While the detainer indicated only that Blandon had been arrested, it might have cued Montgomery to ask Blandon about his criminal record. Montgomery stated that he did not recall seeing an INS detainer on Blandon or any document indicating that Blandon was a convicted felon, but that he did not go through the file page by page. When retrieved by the OIG, Blandon's Alien file was in disarray, and it may well have been in the same condition in 1994. Montgomery said there was a possibility that he might have overlooked such a document but noted that he would have expected Tellez to advise him of Blandon's criminal status.
Tellez also told the OIG that he had alerted his supervisors John Hughes, Jack Feemster, and Arnoldo Flores that he was seeking LPR status for Blandon, and that they knew that Blandon was a convicted felon. Jack Feemster, now retired, refused to be interviewed by the OIG. John Hughes told the OIG that Tellez never briefed him regarding this matter. Hughes believed that Tellez had acted improperly, disregarding proper procedures, because Tellez was under pressure from the DEA to get travel documents for Blandon. Hughes added that Tellez was an experienced agent, but must have been lazy and had taken a short cut in this matter. Arnoldo Flores, now retired, told the OIG that, when told by Tellez that Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale wanted Blandon to go abroad to participate in undercover investigations, Flores had told Tellez to "handle it in the appropriate manner." Flores could not recall if Tellez had informed him of Montgomery's assistance in processing Blandon's application for LPR status. Flores stated that he did not learn that Blandon had obtained LPR status until after Flores had retired. Flores, too, noted that Tellez had been under a tremendous amount of pressure to get travel documents for Blandon, and suggested that Tellez had just tried to appease the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Reports of investigation written by Tellez to apprise his supervisors of his work in the Blandon case did not include any information regarding his efforts to gain LPR status for Blandon. In fact, the one report that mentions Blandon's immigration status is incorrect and misleading. In report number 19, dated March 21, 1994, Tellez wrote on the Form G-166, in paragraph number 3, "Blandon then submitted a request for political asylum because fear [sic] of persecution in his native country. His status for permanent resident was granted on June 5, 1990...." This statement is inaccurate. Blandon's Alien file simply indicates that on June 5, 1990, the INS in Miami had scheduled an interview for Blandon for September 12, 1990, in connection with an unidentified application he had submitted. When asked about this report by the OIG, Tellez acknowledged that the statement was incorrect, and suggested that the June 5, 1990, date was probably the date Blandon was eligible to change to LPR status. There is nothing in the Alien file to indicate that Blandon was eligible to change to LPR status on June 5, 1990. In fact, one document shows that the earliest Blandon was eligible was June 1, 1993 -- after his federal conviction. Tellez said that he probably got the June 5, 1990, date from a list with the visa numbers that Klos or Montgomery had shown him. No such list was found in any of Tellez's files or in Blandon's alien file.
Tellez told the OIG that he had decided not to have Blandon deported and then paroled back into the United States because this approach would have limited Blandon's use as a informant. He explained that an immigration judge can put restrictions on what a parolee could do. But, in his interview with the OIG, Tellez could not specifically name any potential restrictions that would have posed a problem. Tellez also noted that this approach would have required a lot of paperwork, including a letter to the immigration judge explaining the extent of Blandon's cooperation with OCDETF, and that there was no guarantee that the immigration judge would grant Blandon a travel document. But contrary to Tellez's claim, the INS grants requests for parole and provides travel documents administratively. No immigration judge is involved in parole cases.
Tellez also explained that had Blandon been deported and paroled back into the United States, his papers would show that he was a parolee and would therefore raise suspicion that Blandon was a government informant. This, too, is an implausible explanation. The travel document provided to Blandon would have been the same as for a political asylee and some other classifications of nonresident aliens, which would not have suggested in any way that he was an informant.
When interviewed by the OIG, Danilo Blandon recalled that, after he was released from the MCC, Tellez had brought him to see examiner Montgomery to obtain travel documents so that Blandon could go to Nicaragua to work on undercover drug deals. Blandon stated that Montgomery had been aware that he was working as an informant, and that he had been incarcerated in the MCC; he recalled that Montgomery's window had looked out onto the jail, and he had told Montgomery that he had lived over there for a while. However, Blandon did not recall specifically informing Montgomery of his recent drug conviction. Montgomery told the OIG that he did not recall any conversation about Blandon being in jail.
Guadalupe Ochoa, an INS Special Agent in San Diego who worked with Tellez on OCDETF, was also interviewed by the OIG. Ochoa recalled Tellez's asking him the procedure for lifting a detainer on "someone." Ochoa said that he advised Tellez of three options for removing the detainer. These were: (1) to deport the person and then parole them back into the country; (2) to proceed with deportation but hold the process in abeyance pending the completion of cooperation with law enforcement; or (3) to write a letter to the INS District Director with concurrence from the agent's first and second line supervisors requesting that the detainer be lifted. Ochoa related that Tellez had told him that these three options required too much paperwork. Ochoa also advised that he had overheard a telephone conversation in which Tellez had inquired about getting a green card for Blandon. When interviewed by the OIG, Tellez admitted that he had spoken with Ochoa about how to get travel documents for Blandon, but Tellez could not recall what Ochoa had told him.
DEA agents Jones and Gustafson, and Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale, told the OIG that no promises had been made to Blandon regarding his immigration status during plea negotiations or during his cooperation. All three stated that INS agent Tellez handled all INS matters that came up in the OCDETF investigation. However, because Tellez apparently incorrectly reported that Blandon had received his LPR status prior to his arrest, O'Neale gave defense counsel incorrect information during the prosecution of Ricky Ross about Blandon's status. In a letter to defense counsel dated February 15, 1996, O'Neale noted that "the United States has not gone forward with deportation proceedings against Mr. Blandon, and he therefore retains the permanent resident status that he had before his May 1992 arrest."
DEA agent Jones was not aware that Blandon had not received permanent resident status until October 1994, nor was he aware of Blandon's receiving a travel document. Jones noted that he had never heard of Montgomery, and had not been involved with paroling anyone into the United States for several years.
3. Tellez's Motivations in Securing Blandon's Green Card
Based upon our investigation, we concluded that Tellez knew or should have known that Blandon was not eligible for his LPR status, and that Tellez deliberately withheld the fact of Blandon's conviction from the immigration examiner in order to obtain LPR status for Blandon. We believe that Tellez did so because this seemed to be the easiest way to get travel documents for Blandon quickly. There is no evidence that Tellez acted as he did because of any bribe or direction from an outside agency.
Specifically, we found that Tellez did not inform Immigration Examiner Montgomery of Blandon's aggravated felony conviction. Both Montgomery and Klos, who denied that Tellez had informed them of that fact, were credible witnesses. Moreover, Tellez did not put the proper paperwork in the Alien file that would have alerted Montgomery to the conviction, and his explanations for why this information was missing from the file are not credible. We concluded that Tellez did not inform supervisors Hughes or Flores of the fact that he was seeking LPR status for Blandon. The paperwork submitted to them indicates that Blandon already had LPR status, and the file gives no indication of Tellez's dealings with Montgomery. Whether he told his immediate supervisor, Jack Feemster, cannot be determined, because Feemster would not submit to an OIG interview.
Finally, we believe that Tellez acted out of laziness, not any corrupt intent. We found no evidence of any undue influence by any government agency or any bribery by Blandon in this matter. Charged by the other members of the OCDETF group to take care of an immigration problem, Tellez cut corners, in order to give his colleagues a quick result with a minimum of effort on his own part.
M. The Receipt of Green Cards by Blandon's Wife and Daughter
Allegations have also been made that Blandon's wife and daughter improperly and illegally received LPR status. This allegation is without merit. Blandon's wife Chepita and his daughter received LPR status in November 1992. Both applied for LPR status after meeting INS eligibility requirements for further adjustment of status, and it was granted. Because they did not have any criminal convictions, there was nothing improper in the granting of this LPR status.
N. DEA Payments to Blandon
The allegation has been made that Blandon has been paid in excess of $166,000 by the DEA since his release from prison. This is true.
Since his release from prison, Blandon has worked as a paid informant for the DEA. Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale has noted that Blandon's efforts have been "at or above" O'Neale's expectations, and that Blandon has been even more productive since his release from prison than when he was incarcerated. According to O'Neale, Blandon's assistance has already resulted in the seizure of a ship off of Nicaragua and in the arrest of a drug kingpin in Costa Rica.
Between November 29, 1994, and October 17, 1996, Blandon received 41 payments in varying amounts from the DEA. Some of the payments were as small as $300. Most averaged around $2000 or $3000. There were three large payments. Blandon was given an $80,000 award for his help in a sensitive case outside of the United States that resulted in a large seizure of cocaine and the vessels that transported it. Blandon received a $40,000 award for the Ricky Ross case and a $5,000 award for another investigation outside of the United States.
O'Neale noted that a colleague had also been working with Blandon on another sensitive large-scale investigation when the San Jose Mercury News story came out. O'Neale is unsure of the extent to which that investigation has been harmed by the publicity.
Jones stated to the OIG that whatever Blandon received as a reward was not nearly enough for the valuable information he provided. Jones also said that some of the money paid to Blandon was reimbursement for his expenses. Blandon traveled throughout South America, Mexico, and Nicaragua and paid for his own airline, hotel, and food bills. Blandon did not furnish any receipts, but was paid in lump sums estimated to reimburse his expenses.
The practice of paying sums of money to informants who provide information and other assistance will always be a controversial practice. It is even more controversial when such payments are made to people with criminal records and when the payments are substantial. Within this overall context, our conclusion is that the payments to Blandon were consistent with existing agency practices, and the amounts paid were based on agency assessments of the value of Blandon's information.
25. At Ricky Ross' trial in March 1996, Blandon testified that he had been first issued a green card in 1992, before SA Tellez took him to be processed for LPR status in 1994. He stated that he had been called to come to the INS office to pick up a green card in 1992, but that he had been arrested before he got it. In fact, Blandon was correct that he was told in 1992 that his green card was available on the day that he was arrested, but the notice to pick up the card was only a ruse used to effect Blandon's arrest. No such card was actually issued until Blandon obtained LPR status in October 1994.
26. Agent Tellez refused to agree to a voluntary interview by OIG investigators absent immunity from criminal prosecution. The OIG therefore referred the Tellez matter to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice Criminal Division, which stated that the case was, in its judgment, not prosecutable as a criminal matter and gave the OIG permission to compel Tellez to submit to an interview by the OIG. Tellez was compelled and was told, as is standard practice in a compelled interview of a DOJ employee, that nothing he said in the interview could be used against him in a criminal proceeding.
27. After a political asylee applies for LPR status, the asylee is placed on a waiting list for visa availability. Every quarter, a list is published of asylees who have been granted visas, including the visa number. The cover sheet on this list states that it is permissible to complete the asylee's adjudication to LPR status.