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Group Denies Tie to Weapons

Cuban exiles say Robert Ferro, jailed after hundreds of guns were found at his Upland home, wasn't a member of their organization.

April 21, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A militant organization of Cuban exiles disavows any connection to a retired Army Special Forces officer arrested last week after authorities raided his Upland home and found more than 1,300 guns and explosives, the group's leadership said Thursday.

Robert Ferro, 61, told federal authorities that the weapons hidden in his San Bernardino County home -- including machine guns, grenades and a rocket launcher -- were being stored for Alpha 66, a Florida-based paramilitary group that for decades has plotted the overthrow of Fidel Castro.

"We don't have records of Robert Ferro; we know nothing of that person," said Mario Estevez, press secretary of Alpha 66 in Miami. "We have 50,000 members, maybe more, and most of our members are in Cuba. Robert Ferro is not a member of our organization."

Ferro, a Cuban immigrant, faces a federal weapons charge. On Thursday a U.S. District judge in Riverside denied his request for bail. Ferro faces a 10-year prison sentence if convicted, Assistant U.S. Atty. Dennise D. Willett said in court.

Ferro's attorney, Wayne M. Rozenberg of Murrieta, said he wasn't surprised to hear that Alpha 66 had denied any connection to his client, since the paramilitary group operates in a clandestine manner.

"I wouldn't expect anything different from them," Rozenberg said. "It'd be surprising if they admitted his membership."

Rozenberg said outside court that Ferro possessed government-issued weapons and said that how he acquired them "may come to light as this case develops."

Rozenberg said the U.S. government had supported the overthrow of Castro in the past. Ferro "simply continued that endeavor. The government is complicit, hoping he succeeds, and maybe even helping to succeed."

Willett told the judge she strongly objected "to the suggestion the government has assisted him [Ferro] in obtaining these weapons, or assisted him in overthrowing Cuba."

Ferro has said since the early 1990s that he was an Alpha 66 member. It was then that Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies raided his Pomona chicken ranch, where he had been training mercenaries to overthrow Castro.

Authorities found five pounds of the explosive C-4 on the compound, and in 1992 Ferro was convicted of possessing an explosive device and sentenced to two years in prison.

On Friday, Ferro was arrested after state and federal law enforcement authorities raided his home in the 2000 block of Tapia Way in Upland.

The search was part of an investigation of a La Verne man accused of shooting his wife and a Glendora police officer. The alleged gunman, Frank Fidel Beltran, 36, was arrested late last month while living at a Rancho Cucamonga home owned by Ferro.

Investigators believe Ferro may have supplied guns to Beltran, described by law enforcement authorities as a member of a Pomona street gang.

Outside court, attorney Rozenberg said there was "no truth to the idea that [Ferro] was selling weapons."

On Thursday, law enforcement officials found a rocket launcher and a silencer-equipped rifle at Ferro's home.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said investigators were working to establish why Ferro had the guns and how he acquired them.

Ernesto Diaz, leader of Alpha 66, said federal authorities would quickly determine that Ferro was not affiliated with the anti-Castro group.

"He [Ferro] might be trying to cover what he was doing with the guns," Diaz said. "How did he pay for these guns? How did he collect this many guns without anyone knowing? We don't know."

Ferro is scheduled to be arraigned May 10 in Riverside, and U.S. officials said there was a strong possibility that he would face an additional charge of harboring a fugitive.

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