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U.S. Backed His Plan to Raid Cuba, Man Says

April 28, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The Upland man accused of selling guns illegally from his home said in a jailhouse interview Thursday that some of the weapons were covertly supplied to him by the U.S. government, intended for an attempt to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Police say felon Robert Ferro had 1,571 firearms and some hand grenades stashed inside secret compartments and hidden rooms he built inside the sprawling foothill estate. He was arrested last week after a search of his home in connection with another case uncovered the weapons.

But in an interview Thursday, Ferro, 61, contended that some of the high-powered weapons -- including assault rifles, silencer-equipped handguns and Uzis -- were supplied to him by the U.S. government. He said the weapons were supposed to be used in an attempt to oust Castro that would have coincided with U.S. Navy operations being conducted in the Caribbean Sea.

"Obviously, now it will not take place," Ferro said. "Those guns I had were very sophisticated weapons. It was for a fight. I was just trying to mimic what President Bush has done in Iraq, bring freedom to the country.

"I was born [in Cuba]. I want to free them. I love freedom. I love [the U.S.], and I want the same thing for my country."

U.S. military officials acknowledged that 6,500 sailors on several ships and the Virginia-based carrier George Washington are participating in an exercise with at least eight other navies in international waters in the Caribbean. Although the exercise will come as close as 12 miles to Cuba's territorial waters, military officials said it would primarily be hundreds of miles away from the island nation.

One military official said the idea of a U.S. invasion of Cuba "sounds like it's coming from a guy living in a mental time warp, stuck back in the Bay of Pigs. This is 2006, not 1961."

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon said, "Clearly, these allegations [by Ferro] have no merit and have no basis in fact."

Ferro was arrested last week by officers with L.A. IMPACT, a Southern California multi-agency task force, as they investigated his connection to Frank Fidel Beltran, 36, a fugitive arrested in late March while living in a Rancho Cucamonga rental home owned by Ferro.

Beltran was wanted on suspicion of shooting a Glendora police officer in the hand after the officer responded to a domestic dispute between Beltran and his wife. A few weeks later, Beltran shot his wife eight times at a San Dimas intersection after pursuing her in his vehicle, a Los Angeles County sheriff's official said. The woman remains hospitalized, and the gun has not been found, authorities said.

According to police, Beltran is an associate of a Pomona street gang. When he was arrested, authorities said, he had two guns, including a silencer-equipped handgun, similar to weapons found in Ferro's home.

The U.S. attorney's office has charged Ferro with one count of possessing unregistered firearms, but Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the office, said additional charges, including harboring a fugitive, could be added before his scheduled May 10 arraignment in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

Investigators say the Ferro-Beltran link leads them to believe Ferro was selling the guns for profit on the street. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is tracing the guns, but that could take months, bureau spokesman John D'Angelo said Thursday.

During the jailhouse interview, Ferro denied law enforcement assertions that he was a friend of Beltran and that he had provided him and others with weapons. He said Beltran "did some work for him" a few times and moved into the Ferro-owned home without his approval while Beltran's brother did some repair work on the property.

Ferro, who says he's a member of a Miami-based group, Alpha 66, that advocates the overthrow of Castro's regime, said Thursday that about 50 other U.S. citizens were scheduled to accompany him to Cuba, with further assistance coming from people inside Cuba.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Einmiller said her office was investigating the possibility that other anti-Castro sympathizers connected to Ferro had stashed weapons in their homes.

"Mr. Ferro's motives, and all aspects of what Mr. Ferro's statements have been -- whether or not he was planning violent acts -- are under investigation," she said. "No one else has been arrested in this matter."

Alpha 66 leader Ernesto Diaz said last week that Ferro was not a member of the group.

In the 1990s, Ferro was sentenced to two years in prison for possessing 5 pounds of the putty-like explosive C-4. In a 1991 raid, police said Ferro, then a licensed gun dealer, was arrested at the Upland home, where deputies seized an illegal assault rifle and semiautomatic shotgun. About 300 legal firearms were not confiscated.

Prosecutors in the 1990s case said Ferro was an Alpha 66 member training Mexicans at a Pomona chicken ranch he owned for a Castro overthrow attempt.

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