C. The Roles of Ross and Blandon in the Spread of Crack
The San Jose Mercury News series, "Dark Alliance," made certain assertions about Ricky Donnell Ross' and Oscar Danilo Blandon's roles in the emergence of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles and across the nation. The OIG investigation has surveyed social science literature, reviewed data from law enforcement agencies and federal public health organizations, and interviewed social scientists and law enforcement officials in an effort to analyze the articles' claims pertaining to the crack cocaine market.
The Mercury News makes three principal allegations concerning the rise of crack cocaine in Los Angeles and in the United States. First, the Mercury News alleged that cocaine was not available in South Central Los Angeles until Blandon and Ross made it so. The articles described cocaine as "a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods" until Blandon brought it to South Central Los Angeles "at bargain-basement prices." The articles represented that Ross' drug network was the first in the nation to market crack cocaine and was dependent on cocaine supplied by Blandon.(49)
The Mercury News' second claim was that Ross' success as a drug dealer was unique, owing to his unprecedented ties to a Colombian cocaine dealer. According to the articles, Ross was the first black, South Central Los Angeles drug dealer to cultivate a relationship with a Colombian cocaine trafficker. As a consequence, Ross purportedly became the sole conduit for affordable, Colombian cocaine into the untapped black communities of South Central Los Angeles. Since Blandon's Colombian supplier was Ross' source for the cheap cocaine that flooded the streets of South Central Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the Mercury News dubbed Blandon "the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California -- the Crips' and Bloods' first direct-connect to the cocaine cartels of Colombia."
Lastly, the Mercury News series asserted that Ross' and Blandon's drug network was the catalyst for the crack epidemic that erupted in the 1980s across America, not just the epidemic that occurred in the city of Los Angeles. According to one article, "The cocaine that flooded in [through Blandon's drug ring] helped spark a crack explosion in urban America . . ." During a June 22, 1997 interview with the Revolutionary Worker, Gary Webb clarified the point he intended for the article to make:
What we were able to show was where the stuff was being sold, which was the inner cities, in Los Angeles primarily. And we were able to show what the effect of that was. Which was to help spark this horrible crack epidemic that went from Los Angeles to hundreds of cities across the United States in the years after that.
The OIG investigation found little to support the Mercury News' claims concerning Ross' and Blandon's allegedly seminal roles in the proliferation of crack cocaine in Los Angeles. The OIG uncovered even less evidence to support the allegations concerning Ross' and Blandon's roles in the spread of crack cocaine across the nation. We uncovered conflicting evidence of the singularity of Ross' ties to Colombian dealers. Ross may indeed have been one of the first black dealers in South Central Los Angeles to forge a tie, through Blandon, to a Colombian supplier. However, the significance of that fact is debatable; other black South Central dealers who were Ross' contemporaries found their own Colombian cocaine suppliers either in the same timeframe or shortly after Ross did, and without Blandon's assistance.
While some of the Mercury News series' assertions about the origins of the crack cocaine epidemic are in fact accurate, others do not appear to be supported by fact or are the product of untested supposition. For example, while Ross was a major cocaine trafficker in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, there is scant evidence to support the assertion that he was solely or even principally responsible for the explosive growth of crack cocaine in Los Angeles during that period. The burgeoning of the crack cocaine market -- both in Los Angeles and across the country -- is best explained by the confluence of several factors that were not under the control of a single entity or individual.
There is no doubt that Ricky Ross created a massive distribution network that poured enormous amounts of crack into Los Angeles, and elsewhere, during the mid-1980s. One of the more challenging aspects of our inquiry has been to reconcile, or choose between, conflicting accounts by Blandon and Ross. Both admit to participating in repeated, large-scale drug transactions, but they differ on the duration of their drug dealing and the quantity of cocaine sold. And each man's account has itself varied over time.
1. When Did Blandon Begin Selling Cocaine to Ross?
It is hard to pin-point exactly when Ross first became involved in the cocaine business, since he has been unsure of the precise date and has given at least two different accounts of how he got started. However, these descriptions of his drug dealing history contain certain facts susceptible to being fixed in time.
Ross grew up in Los Angeles, and was a talented tennis player in high school. According to Ross' testimony in his 1996 trial, he failed to graduate from high school, and enrolled at Venice Gilson Trade School, where he met "Mr. Fisher." Ross testified that he attended Gilson for only one month, until he transferred to Los Angeles Trade Technical College, where he played tennis for one or two years. Mr. Fisher then allegedly introduced him to cocaine and drug dealing. Ross' school records from Los Angeles Trade Technical College indicate that Ross enrolled there in January 1979. While his academic records indicate that he remained enrolled until January 1982, his transcripts show that he played tennis for L.A. Trade Tech until January 1981. Thus, according to this account of his introduction to cocaine dealing, he began selling cocaine either in early 1981, when he stopped playing tennis at L.A. Trade Tech, or in 1982, when he finished taking classes there.
However, Ross also testified during a December 1991 trial and told both the Los Angeles Times in 1994 and the Mercury News in 1996 that he was first introduced to cocaine in the early 1980s by a friend, Michael Willie McLaurin, who was home from San Jose State University (SJSU). Attendance records from SJSU indicate that McLaurin attended classes there for one semester, from January 1981 to May 1981. Ross also told both the Los Angeles Times and the Mercury News that he began dealing cocaine after his arrest for grand theft auto, which occurred in March 1982. This places Ross' beginnings as cocaine dealer in mid-1982, at the earliest. Whether Ross began selling cocaine at the behest of Mr. Fisher or after his arrest for grand theft auto, both accounts suggest that he started selling cocaine in or around early 1982. We believe that it is most likely that Ross started dealing cocaine in early 1982.
Determining when Blandon became Ross' supplier is a more difficult task, complicated both by Ross' and Blandon's frequently shifting accounts of when they met. In various interviews and testimony, Ross has stated that Blandon began selling cocaine to him in 1981 or 1982, or sometime during 1983 or 1984. Blandon, on the other hand, has asserted that they met later: 1983, 1984, or 1985.
Despite the disagreement on the precise year, Ross and Blandon provide the same account of how they met and began their dealings. In the early 1980s Blandon was selling cocaine to Henry Corrales and Claudio Villavencio (a.k.a. "Ivan Arguellas"), who were in turn supplying Ross with cocaine in relatively small quantities -- 6 to 8 ounces a week. Ross and Blandon agree that their relationship began shortly after Villavencio was shot and paralyzed. After Villavencio's shooting, Corrales attempted to continue doing business. He ultimately gave up, arranged for Blandon to deal directly with Ross, and left the country. Police records confirm that Villavencio was shot in October 1983. It appears, therefore, that Blandon did not began selling directly to Ross until after October 1983. Because Corrales attempted to continue conducting business before introducing Ross directly to Blandon, Ross and Blandon probably did not begin dealing with each other until 1984.
The scale of Ross' operation vastly increased once he starting dealing directly with Blandon, particularly after Blandon developed a Colombian source of supply, Aparicio Moreno. Blandon has not been able to say precisely when he began to deal with Moreno but, based on the accounts of Blandon, Carlos Rocha -- one of Blandon's associates whom the OIG interviewed -- and LA CI-1, it appears that Blandon did not develop his Colombian source until approximately 1985.
2. How much cocaine Did Blandon Sell to Ross?
Establishing with any certainty how much cocaine Blandon sold to Ross is virtually impossible. No one in Blandon's or Ross' organizations kept a careful accounting of such matters. Moreover, the quantity that Blandon sold to Ross was not constant. The amounts were relatively small at the beginning of their relationship, growing considerably as time passed. To further complicate matters, the amounts Blandon sold to Ross fluctuated according to his supply and competition with Ross' various other suppliers. Some estimates have failed to take these factors into account and have instead assumed that the quantity Ross was buying at his peak in 1986 remained constant over the duration of his relationship with Blandon. From our interviews of both Ross and Blandon, we know that this was not the case.
When interviewed by the OIG, Ross recalled that the first kilogram he ever bought was purchased from Blandon. Before that he was dealing in smaller quantities. As discussed above, the OIG believes that Ross began buying cocaine from Blandon in late 1983 or early 1984. According to Blandon, Ross bought two or three kilograms every few days, until Blandon, wearying of these repeated transactions, started selling Ross about 25 kilograms at a time. Blandon noted that this reduced his profit per kilogram because of volume discounts, but increased his overall profit because he was selling more cocaine. Blandon testified at Ross' trial that he was selling 100 kilos per month to Ross in 1984. Blandon also testified that by 1986 he was selling 100 kilos per week to a combination of four or five different customers, including Ross. Blandon told the OIG that during 1985 and 1986, the amounts he sold Ross ranged from 50 kilos in a week, to nothing.(50) It is unclear from Blandon's account how long Ross bought cocaine a few kilograms at a time from Blandon before graduating to large multi-kilo purchases. It is possible that Ross did not begin buying in large multi-kilo quantities until mid or late 1984.
When Ross was asked during his December 1991 testimony in the "Big Spender" trial to estimate how much his drug organization sold over its lifetime -- which the OIG believes began in 1981 or 1982 and ended with his arrest in 1989 -- he said the total amount was between 2,000 kilos and 3,000 kilos. Such an estimate is consistent with Blandon's account above and with an estimate Blandon made in July 1990 during a conversation with an individual who, unbeknownst to Blandon, was a DEA informant wearing a hidden recording device. Blandon told the informant that he estimated that he had sold between 2,000 and 4,000 kilos to black drug dealers.
Lister told the OIG about one occasion when Blandon purportedly paid him $50,000 to help transport 100 kilograms of cocaine from Blandon's house to South Central Los Angeles. Lister recalled that a black man had taken the cocaine, and delivered boxes containing $2.5 million in cash. Ross recalled this transaction, which he believed had taken place in 1985, because it was the first time he had received 100 kilos, and because his money had been short; the price for the shipment had been almost $3 million. Ross noted that he had never received cocaine on credit from either the Torres brothers or Blandon, but was occasionally given partial credit when he did not have enough cash to pay for a delivery. Blandon denied to the OIG ever making a multi-million dollar shipment to Ross. Instead, he maintained that he delivered approximately 50 to 60 kilos of cocaine to Ross with Lister. He denied that Ross paid him millions of dollars for this transaction.
Some of Ross' estimates of his cocaine sales have far exceeded the 2000 to 3000 kilo estimate he made in 1991. Ross told the OIG that, in 1983 and 1984, he frequently got about 100 kilograms a week from Blandon and about 40 kilograms a week from Edgar and Jacinto Torres, two of Blandon's competitors who sold to Ross until 1987. If this pattern of purchases occurred consistently for only a single year, this would amount to close to 8000 kilograms. Ross also estimated that Blandon sold him between 500 and 700 kilograms every month. During his 1996 testimony, Ross claimed that during his peak year, 1985, he made $200,000,000 and he told the Mercury News that "it was not uncommon ... to move $2 million or $3 million worth of crack in one day." These figures appear to be exaggerated. According to his 1991 testimony, Ross first became a millionaire in 1984 or 1985. It seems unlikely that his profits increased two-hundredfold in a single year. Moreover, Ross told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that, when he laid all of his money on a living room floor in 1986 and counted it, it totaled $2.8 million.
It is unlikely that we will ever know exactly how much cocaine Blandon sold to Ross. Needless to say, regardless of whether Ross' or Blandon's figures are credited, Blandon sold a massive volume of cocaine to Ross over the duration of their association. The OIG believes that Ross' own estimate of how much cocaine he sold -- 2,000 to 3,000 kilos -- is credible and supported by both his other testimony and by Blandon. While this amount is considerable, it alone was clearly not enough to spark the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, especially since it was spread over seven years.
To put that amount in perspective: 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms equals roughly two to three tons of cocaine handled by Ross' organization over seven years. The DEA estimated in 1982 that 44 tons of cocaine had been brought into the country in 1980 alone, and 40 to 48 tons in 1981. About 20 percent of that cocaine was believed to be destined for Los Angeles. In November 1984, the State Department Bulletin reported that an estimated 70 tons of cocaine was being smuggled into the country. Furthermore, there were a number of traffickers who dealt in quantities far greater than did Ross' organization during this period. In March 1982, two tons of cocaine were seized at the Miami Airport. In May 1984, the Associated Press reported the arrest of members of a ring in southern California and Miami that smuggled a ton of cocaine in just the prior year. In September 1984, Alan Mobley pleaded guilty to smuggling two tons of cocaine a year to the West Coast for a cocaine ring run out of Orange County, California. In 1984, Harold Rosenthal was convicted in federal court of bringing five tons of cocaine into the country during a 14-month period.
3. Availability of Cocaine in South Central Los Angeles
Cocaine was a status drug for the wealthy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was not widely used in South Central Los Angeles in 1980, principally because it was not affordable to many drug users. Phencyclidine (PCP) was still prevalent in that era. PCP was manufactured and distributed mainly by Los Angeles street gangs, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Nonetheless, the Mercury News' assertion that cocaine was not available in South Central Los Angeles before Blandon began selling to Ross is inaccurate, or at least hyperbolic.(51)
First, cocaine was apparently present in South Central Los Angeles before Ross even began to sell it. In October 1996, the Los Angeles Times published a story recounting Thomas "Tootie" Reese's claim that he was introduced to freebasing in 1976. He soon learned how to make crack and became a substantial drug dealer in the black community in Los Angeles.(52) Reese was arrested in 1983 by the DEA after he made a multi-kilo cocaine deal. And Reese was not the only South Central dealer selling cocaine. When the OIG interviewed Ross, we asked whether others were dealing cocaine in the early days of his organization. Ross stated that there were "a few people I used to hear about," and he named several.
As Ross' operation grew, he had other South Central dealers to contend with. Perhaps the most successful of these was Brian Bennett, also known as "Waterhead Bo." According to Ross, Bennett started his operation at about the same time Ross did. As discussed below, Bennett is believed to be responsible for a large, multi-state cocaine operation in the mid-1980s. Law enforcement wiretaps that intercepted communications related to Bennett's operation indicate that, in one month in 1987, Bennett purchased just under 1,000 kilos of cocaine from a Colombian source.
Ross was also not the first crack dealer in South Central Los Angeles. Others taught him about crack cocaine. Ross told the OIG that he first learned to "rock up" cocaine powder so that it was suitable for smoking from Stefan Moore, and told LASD investigators that he learned from "watching different people in the neighborhood," including Michael McLaurin and a "pimp named Martin." Ross told the OIG that other drug dealers did not really want to show him how to cook crack because they usually got paid to make the crack. It is also worthy of note that Ross has never claimed that Blandon, or any other Nicaraguan, taught him how to make crack cocaine. Ross has specifically denied in both his interview with the OIG and in trial testimony that Blandon taught him how to cook crack.
The Mercury News' contention that Blandon was a prime factor in the growth of cocaine in South Central Los Angeles appears to be based in part on the low per-kilo prices that Blandon was able to provide to Ross, which enabled Ross to buy cocaine in large quantities. However, cocaine prices dropped throughout the 1980s as a result of activity by South American drug cartels. During the 1980s, cocaine producers in South America -- particularly Colombia -- increased production of cocaine.
Cocaine is a commodity whose prices follow the same basic economic rules of supply and demand that apply to most products: when supply is abundant, prices fall; when there is scarcity, prices rise. At the beginning of the 1980s, the national wholesale price for a kilogram of cocaine hydrochloride ranged from $47,000 to $70,000. By the end of the 1980s, the national wholesale price dropped to between $10,000 and $38,000.(53) Despite huge seizures of cocaine like those discussed above, prices continued to drop in major cities throughout the 1980s. When huge seizures have no effect on street prices, it indicates that a large supply is still in circulation. The drop in the price of cocaine, despite increased seizures and purer product, suggests that the amount of cocaine in the United States grew steadily throughout the 1980s. The wholesale market became flooded with cocaine and the price of cocaine dropped dramatically as a result of a glut. In sum, anyone with a Colombian source could have taken advantage of the glut on the supply side.
4. Was Ross the first Los Angeles drug dealer with a Colombian supplier?
In 1985, the DEA began investigating Mario Ernesto Villabona Alvarez, a Colombian drug source, and soon discovered that Brian Bennett, who became one of the largest traffickers in Los Angeles, was one of his customers. During an intercepted telephone conversation in April 1988 between Villabona and an individual in Cali, Colombia, Villabona was given an accounting of money owed by Bennett for 1987 and 1988 cocaine deliveries. In addition to 985 kilos of cocaine that had been sold to Bennett's operation at the end of 1987 for between $9,500 to $10,000 a kilo, another 1,791 kilos was sold to Bennett's operation during January and February 1988 for between $9,000 and $9,500. At the time of his arrest, the Bennett-Villabona drug organization was selling approximately a ton of cocaine per week, according to law enforcement sources quoted in news coverage about the arrest. DEA agents also determined that Villabona was supplying other South Central Los Angeles dealers including Michael Harris, Jimmy Washington, and Mike McCarver. McCarver alone was buying thousands of kilos of cocaine.
It is unclear whether Villabona's tie to these South Central dealers preceded Ross' connection to Blandon and Moreno. The OIG was unable to precisely determine when Villabona began dealing with Bennett. Nevertheless, it is apparent that other South Central drug dealers forged ties to Colombian dealers without the assistance of Blandon or any other Nicaraguans associated with the Contras. If Ross was indeed the first to establish a connection to Colombia, others followed closely in his wake.
It should also be noted that the prices at which Villabona sold cocaine to Bennett reflected the drop in cocaine prices that occurred during the 1980s in Los Angeles and across the country. Ross stated that he bought his first kilogram from Blandon for $40,000. We believe this occurred in 1984. According to Ross, Blandon sold him 13 kilograms of cocaine for $10,000 a kilogram in 1987. The Villabona conversation suggests that Blandon was simply charging Ross prevailing rates for cocaine, not fantastically discounted rates as was alleged by the Mercury News.
5. Were Ross and Blandon Responsible for the Spread of Crack Cocaine in Los Angeles?
Ross and Blandon certainly contributed to the crack epidemic in South Central Los Angeles. But, contrary to the suggestion of the Mercury News, there is no evidence that they were singularly or primarily responsible for it.
First, the timing of Ross' ascension as a cocaine dealer makes it improbable that he was a pivotal factor in the explosive growth of cocaine in South Central Los Angeles. It appears that sometime between 1983 and 1984, crack became a concern among law enforcement and medical health experts in South Central Los Angeles. Los Angeles Police Detective Ben Gonzalez of the South Bureau juvenile narcotics division reported that 147 juveniles were arrested on cocaine-related charges from January 1984 to November 1984. In contrast, 34 were arrested during all of 1983. An interview with a 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who spent the early 1980s working in South Central Los Angeles revealed a similar story. Detective Richard Ginelli became a supervisor of the South Bureau's narcotics squads in 1981. He recalled that PCP was still prevalent then and, while crack cocaine may have existed, it did not have a significant presence. Detective Ginelli recalled that starting in 1982 he began seeing "rock" cocaine with greater frequency, although it had not yet become a significant problem. Detective Alfonse Kotero, who was an LAPD policeman on the streets of South Central in 1982, also recalled hearing about rock cocaine for the first time in 1982. During 1982 or 1983, he recalled receiving training on rock cocaine during roll call and recalled hearing that there was freebase that was created with cocaine and rum. Detective Kotero remembered that LAPD's raids on "rock houses" began in 1983.
Press accounts also set South Central Los Angeles' crack crisis as beginning in or about 1984. The press did not begin reporting on the issue of crack cocaine until 1984, but those articles suggested that the mounting crack problem had existed prior to that time. The first coverage of crack cocaine by a major newspaper was a November 25, 1984, Los Angeles Times article entitled, "South Central Cocaine Sales Explode Into $25 'Rocks.'" The article recounted concerns about the "sale of hardened cocaine called 'rocks'" that reportedly swept through South Central Los Angeles' black community during the prior 18 months.
According to OIG estimates, Ross began dealing small quantities of cocaine in 1982 and did not graduate to larger quantities until mid to late 1984. By the time Ross' operation reached its peak -- in 1985, according to Ross -- crack was prevalent in South Central Los Angeles, and many other dealers were vying for a share of the lucrative market. Thus, by the time Ross was buying and selling cocaine in large quantities, the crack crisis was well underway in South Central Los Angeles.
Ross told the Mercury News: "I'm not saying I wouldn't have been a dope dealer without Danilo ... But I wouldn't have been Freeway Rick." This is far from clear. Blandon was certainly a major supplier, but there were plenty of others. Ross was an ambitious entrepreneur who thrived in optimal market conditions: the Colombian cocaine glut had reduced cocaine prices, and crack was well-suited for cheap, easy production and simple, ready-to-use distribution. But crack's effects and affordability made it extremely popular among drug users and accessible to the poor. These factors were more responsible than anything else for the rise of crack cocaine. And they were not a creation of Ricky Ross, Danilo Blandon, or any other individual. [See Appendix B for discussion of the addiction and the pharmacology of crack cocaine and Appendix C for a discussion of the history of cocaine.]
6. Did Ross and Blandon Spread Crack Across the Country?
The Mercury News series suggested that Ross and Blandon were responsible for the spread of crack cocaine across the country. This claim is dubious and may be discounted for several reasons. First, it presupposes that crack first appeared in Los Angeles and spread nationwide from there. Drug experts still do not agree on the path charted by crack across the country. Some do indeed believe that crack was created on the West Coast. The DEA reports that crack cocaine was first identified in Los Angeles in 1981, when it was also found in Houston, Miami, and San Diego. The DEA's report that crack existed in Los Angeles in 1981 is bolstered by Dr. Malcolm Klein, PhD, who researched gangs and drugs in Los Angeles. Dr. Klein reported during an OIG interview that his review of 1981 Los Angeles police reports indicated the seizure of rock-like narcotic substances in glassine bags that were identified as cocaine. These, in all likelihood, were crack cocaine. Moreover, a researcher in the area of cocaine use, Dr. Ronald Siegel, PhD, reportedly witnessed residents from South Central Los Angeles' Nickerson Gardens public housing project smoking crack as early as 1978.
However, many believe that crack was created independently on the East Coast. One theory posits that crack developed on the East Coast as the result of coca paste smoking. In the early 1970s, drug users rediscovered cocaine just as heroin waned in popularity. At the same time, a new method of administering cocaine was becoming popular outside of the United States. A coca paste smoking epidemic erupted in Peru and the Bahamas during the 1970s and early 1980s. Some social scientists believe that cocaine abuse in Peru and the Caribbean in the late 1970s presaged the United States' coming crack cocaine problem and may have been the precipitating event. [See Appendix B for discussion of coca paste smoking]
During the 1970s in Peru -- a cocaine producing country -- General F. Raul Jeri, M.D., and the Health Department of the Ministry of the Interior reported on a disturbing trend of coca paste addiction. Jeri found an urban pattern of cocaine abuse among smokers of coca paste. Smokers were reportedly becoming so obsessed with their smoking that they suffered from malnutrition and ill health and resorted to crime to obtain the drug.(54) United States representatives who visited Peru in 1979 to examine evidence of the problem were alarmed, both by what they had witnessed and by the prospect of the phenomenon spreading to the United States.(55) During a hearing held by the House Select Committee on Narcotic Abuse and Control on July 26, 1979, Dr. Robert Byck of Yale University expressed alarm at the phenomenon and urged "the Federal Government to engage in an educational campaign to prevent a drug abuse epidemic" in the United States. In later testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations on July 15, 1986, after the crack cocaine crisis had begun here, Dr. Byck would proclaim that "[t]oday we are in the midst of the predicted epidemic."(56)
Just on the heels of the Peruvian crisis was the outbreak of a similar phenomenon in the Bahamas. The cocaine base smoking epidemic in the Bahamas was even more widely reported among social scientists in the United States than the phenomenon in Peru. It represented the first documented nationwide epidemic of freebase cocaine abuse outside of a producer nation. A well respected medical journal, The Lancet, reported that beginning in 1983, the number of admissions for cocaine abuse to Bahamian psychiatric hospitals increased dramatically: from none in 1982, to 69 in 1983, and to 523 in 1984. In 1984, 98% of the admissions to the Nassau psychiatric hospital for cocaine abuse involved freebase smoking.
A 1994 DEA report identified the substance that was being smoked in the Bahamas as "crack."(57) The report stated that crack cocaine first appeared in the early 1980s, when several nations in the Caribbean reported drug users smoking coca paste mixed with baking soda, water, or rum, called "baking soda paste," "base-rock," "gravel," and "roxanne." This is the same recipe for crack that Detective Kotero recalled being used on the streets of Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
Dr. James Inciardi, a researcher in the area of illicit drugs, has written several articles on the onset of cocaine base smoking in the Bahamas. He has asserted that the Bahamian coca paste epidemic was caused by the Colombian government's successful attempt to restrict the sale of ether used to convert coca paste into cocaine hydrochloride in anticipation that it would reduce the domestic production of cocaine hydrochloride. Instead, according to Dr. Inciardi, cocaine producers began shipping unprocessed coca paste to Caribbean and Central American countries in lieu of cocaine hydrochloride.(58)
Dr. Inciardi reports that in 1980, coca paste smoking was popular in the Caribbean. According to Dr. Inciardi, immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad, and locations along the Leeward and Windward Islands introduced the prototype for crack to Caribbean inner-city populations in Miami and New York. Inciardi claimed that coca paste may have been a prototype for crack used in the United States.(59) Researchers whose study was published in the Lancet reached a similar conclusion:
Although it is not possible to pinpoint a single inventor of crack, it is likely that one of the earliest appearances of crack was in the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas.
From the Caribbean, crack made one of its earliest entries in the United States in Miami sometime in the early 1980s. Around the same time, a similar product called "rock" cocaine began making its appearance in Los Angeles; whether the Los Angeles version of crack had its source in the Caribbean, or represented a simultaneous discovery by a local drug chemist, is not clear.
Lancet, 1:459-62, 1986, "Epidemic Freebase Cocaine Abuse: Case Study from the Bahamas." (citations omitted)
Another theory posits that crack cocaine was an outgrowth of experimentation with freebasing cocaine, a method of administering cocaine that was particularly popular on the West Coast in the 1970s and early 1980s, and coca paste smoking. Dr. Ronald Siegel, a researcher now at UCLA who for two decades researched freebasing practices, has documented crack and freebasing practices. Dr. Siegel believes that crack cocaine was imported to the United States in the early 1970s by United States cocaine smugglers who observed coca paste smoking while in South America. A drug trafficker who was interviewed by Dr. Siegel in 1974 reported his experience with coca paste: "[S]moking base is incredibly euphoric, just like shooting it [intravenously]. We don't want too many people knowing about it because it will get out of hand. It's incredibly addicting. But you need a lot of coke to make it, so only dealers will probably do it."(60)
According to Dr. Siegel, a mis-translation related to coca paste may have resulted in the unintended creation of freebase. Dr. Siegel was told by an interviewee who was a drug trafficker that in January 1974 he told a chemist about smoking "base." The interviewee was referring to "base" (pronounced bah-say), a coca paste smoked in South America. The chemist, who reportedly thought that the interviewee was referring to the chemical "base" form of cocaine hydrochloride, attempted to recreate what he thought the interviewee had described, cocaine hydrochloride converted to a base state. The chemist used baking soda and ether in the conversion process.(61) The result was cocaine freebase, a substance that was purer and more concentrated than the coca paste that was being smoked in South America, because it contained neither the solvents nor the other residues from the coca leaf extraction process. [See Appendix B for discussion of manufacturing coca paste.] Dr. Siegel believes that chemist may have created something that never had been manufactured before. Dr. Siegel stated in an interview with the OIG, if there was a "Johnny Appleseed of crack," it was that chemist.
In sum, there is no consensus on how crack was invented or how it spread. However, the fact that it existed in cities on the East Coast in the early 1980s at the same time it did in Los Angeles undermines the theory that the presence of crack everywhere is an outgrowth of crack in Los Angeles. For example, a survey taken in 1986 by Dr. Inciardi of 254 crack users in Miami determined that 28 percent had heard of crack as early as November 1982.
Dates of First Knowledge of Crack in Miami
|When did you first hear about crack?||
|November 1982 - December 1983||
|January - December 1984||
|January - December 1985||
|December 1985 - February 1987||
Source: "Crack Cocaine in Miami" at 267.
A further weakness in the claim that Ross and Blandon are responsible for the spread of crack nationwide is Ross' inconsistent accounts of his distribution networks across the country. During his interview with the OIG, Ross said he had sold a total of 30 to 50 kilos of cocaine in Tyler and Dallas, Texas, from 1984 through 1986; 10 to 15 kilos of cocaine to dealers from Seattle in 1984; 10 to 15 kilos to dealers from Louisiana from 1984 to 1986; 200 kilos to dealers in Kansas City in 1985; .5 to 2 kilos a week during 1986 to dealers in St. Louis; 40 to 50 kilos to dealers in Oklahoma from 1984 to 1985; and unknown quantities to dealers in Cincinnati in 1987 and Indiana and New York in 1988. But during his December 1991 trial testimony, he told of having sold cocaine in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and the state of Texas, but did not mention Seattle, Louisiana, or Kansas City. And he denied ever selling cocaine in New York. In any event, even if one takes Ross' most grandiose claims as true, the quantities he has admitted to selling in these cities were not large enough to have created a crack crisis.
A study conducted in one of Ross' principal cities of operation, Cincinnati, Ohio, has failed to support claims that Ross was responsible for the onset of crack cocaine there. On October 2, 1996, in the aftermath of the Mercury News series, the Police Chief of the City of Cincinnati directed the city's Regional Narcotics Unit (RNU) to conduct an inquiry to determine Ross' relationship to the emergence of the crack cocaine problem in that city. The study used data collected by the RNU beginning in 1986 on the frequency of law enforcement contacts with crack cocaine in the various neighborhoods of Cincinnati to determine Ross' impact upon crack trafficking. The RNU concluded that, while Ross was a significant cocaine trafficker, many others in Cincinnati were as significant. Its report found that cocaine had principally been obtained from the eastern seaboard cities in New York, New Jersey, and southern Florida, not from Los Angeles. Furthermore, it found that most of Cincinnati's cocaine supply had been controlled by individuals of South American and Caribbean origin who were distributing cocaine to traffickers who resided in Cincinnati. The report concluded:
While Ross was responsible for significant cocaine distributions locally, so were a number of other cocaine traffickers arrested that year. These subjects had no linkage to Ross, street gangs, and most had no linkage to Southern California.
During our interview, when we asked Ross if he was the "Johnny Appleseed of Crack," he responded: "It's possible. I played the part, I helped." But when we asked him about dealing cocaine in various cities, he conceded that he was not the first, only, or principal dealer in those cities.
When asked at his March 1996 trial whether he was the biggest cocaine dealer in Los Angeles, Ross responded that he instead was just the most famous. To be sure, modesty about the scope of one's criminal activity is common among defendants dealing with the government. But the evidence fully supports Ross' concessions in this regard.
49. In a June 19, 1997, interview of Gary Webb that appeared on the METROACTIVE website, Webb described the significance of his articles as follows: "Well, the significance is that these drugs started the first crack market in the United States. I mean, the Contras brought in cocaine and they fueled the first crack market in the U.S."
50. It should be noted that, during Ross' immunized testimony in the "Big Spender" trial in 1991, discussed below, he did not mention Blandon as one of the sources of his drugs. When asked by the OIG about this omission, Ross stated that he had wanted to protect Blandon. Ross stated, "I loved Blandon and he was like a father to me."
51. Our analysis focused upon cocaine instead of crack because the Mercury News' allegations were based upon Blandon's importation of mass quantities of cocaine, not crack. The Mercury News alleged that Blandon and Ross created the crack crisis by making mass quantities of affordable cocaine available in South Central Los Angeles. As Gary Webb stated in June 1997 during an interview with Revolutionary Worker:
[T]he technology to make crack had been around for a while. I found evidence that there were recipes floating around on how to do this conversion from powder to crack with baking soda in the late '70s. The problem was, there just wasn't enough cocaine out there to do it with. And it was too expensive. And what we found was that when you brought in a large quantity of very cheap cocaine, suddenly people that knew how to make crack had the wherewithal to make it. It was the raw material -- these folks supplied the new material for this crack problem. And that was the connection. It wasn't a situation where the CIA invented crack, or the Contras were bringing in crack. They were just bringing in powder and the drug users on the street had this knowledge of how to do it for a while but didn't have the material to do it with.
52. The OIG attempted unsuccessfully to interview Reese for this report.
53. Maurice Rinfret, "Cocaine Price, Purity, and Trafficking Trends," Epidemiology of Cocaine Use and Abuse, NIDA Monograph Series, 1991.
54. Jeri, F.R.; Sanchez, C.C., Del Pozo, T. & Fernandez, M., Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, Vol. 10(4): 361-370 (1978).
55. Hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, 99th Cong., 2d Sess., July 15, 1986, at 19.
56. Id. at 86.
57. Crack Cocaine: Drug Intelligence Report, April 1994 (DEA Publication).
58. Inciardi, James, "Crack Cocaine in Miami," The Epidemiology of Cocaine Use and Abuse, NIDA Research Monograph, at 265, (1991). See also Inciardi, J.A., "Beyond cocaine: Basuco, crack, and other coca products," Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall: 461-494, 1987.
59. Crack Cocaine in Miami, at 265.
60. Siegel, R.K., Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, History of Cocaine Smoking, Vol. 14(4) Oct-Dec 1982, at 288.