"It never happened on my watch. . . . I could not have done that, were I asked. As I testified before Congress, I [was] a law enforcement official, sworn to perform my duties, to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. I would not allow any cases to slip or slide because of some external pressure."
Blandon, released from prison in 1994, became a DEA informant, for which he has been paid more than $160,000, according to court testimony. Assistant U.S. Atty. L. J. O'Neale said his testimony has been "extraordinarily valuable." According to one former associate, Blandon was working undercover in Latin America last summer when his name suddenly appeared in the newspapers--and his operation was hurriedly closed down. DEA officials refused to comment on Blandon's current status or whereabouts.
Meneses was arrested in Nicaragua in 1991, fingered by other drug dealers who said he was involved with a 750-kilogram (1,650-pound) shipment of cocaine that was being packed into the struts and chassis of four Mercedes-Benzes for shipment to the United States.
The chief witness at his 1992 trial in Managua was another accused drug trafficker, a former Sandinista army major who testified that Meneses boasted of helping to finance the Contras by selling cocaine.
Meneses is serving a 15-year sentence at Tipitapa Prison outside Managua, living in a tiny cell with freshly painted light blue walls and a twin bed with flowered sheets. He has become a devout Roman Catholic and is the trustee in charge of the prison chapel.
"Everything that Blandon said about selling drugs is a lie," he says, insisting he is innocent of the many charges against him. "Danilo is just taking advantage of a person who is in prison," he complained. "He wants to justify his drug trafficking by smearing the [Contra] cause."
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THE COCAINE TRAIL / About This Series
The allegations were startling: A CIA-sponsored drug ring funneled millions of dollars in drug profits to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and, in the process, opened the first pipeline for crack cocaine to Los Angeles. With the resulting furor in print and on the airwaves, The Times assigned a team of reporters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and Nicaragua to investigate. This is their report:
* SUNDAY: Who first brought crack cocaine to Los Angeles, and how did it spread? What was the role of "Freeway" Ricky Ross in the drug epidemic? Who else played key roles?
* TODAY: Did a CIA-sponsored operation funnel millions of dollars to the Nicaraguan Contras? What does the evidence show about the drug ring at the center of the current allegations?
* TUESDAY: What impact have history and the renewed allegations of CIA involvement in drug dealing had in Los Angeles? And what journalistic issues have been raised by the controversy?
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Timing the Crack Connection
The new allegations of possible CIA involvement in Los Angeles' crack crisis are based on the assumption that Nicaraguan drug traffickers Norvin Meneses and Oscar Danilo Blandon worked together with Los Angeles drug dealer "Freeway" Ricky Ross to funnel money from drug sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. But Meneses was a drug dealer before the Contras existed and after they folded. Meneses and Blandon worked together closely for only a short period, according to court testimony and interviews, and their collaboration overlapped barely, if at all, with Blandon's association with Ross or with the period in which the Contras were dependent on private funds.
MENESES DEALS DRUGS
1974: Meneses begins his drug dealing career in Managua, according to Nicaraguan police sources.
1982: Meneses begins raising funds for Contras.
December 1976: Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Costa Rica identifies Meneses as a cocaine trafficker in Managua; notes that his brother, Edmundo Meneses, is commander of Managua police force.
1984: Meneses pays bill for contra fundraising dinner in San Francisco.
1987: DEA chief John C. Lawn tells Congress that Meneses is "well documented" as a cocaine trafficker. Lawn says DEA is aware of rumors that he is linked to the Contras, but "has been unable to substantiate these allegations."
1989: Meneses is indicted in San Francisco but not arrested.
1990: Meneses returns to Nicaragua from Costa Rica. Later in the year, he is arrested.
1992: Meneses convicted and begins serving prison term in Managua.
MENESES WORKS CLOSELY WITH BLANDON
1979: Blandon comes to the U.S. from Nicaragua.
1981: Blandon meets members of Meneses family in San Francisco. At the time, Blandon is selling used cars.
Late 1982-Early 1983: Blandon cuts ties with Meneses and turns to Colombian wholesalers as source of cocaine supply.
1983: Begins selling to L.A. drug dealer Ricky Ross.
1984-85: Peak of Blandon's drug business.
1990: Blandon is by now an informant for federal authorities.
1993: Sentenced in San Diego.
Crack in L.A. and Ricky Ross