A pawn in the CIA drug game

by Rosalind Muhammad
West Coast Bureau Chief

SAN DIEGO--Ricky Donnell Ross, 36, was a trailblazer in the crack cocaine trade in Los Angeles and other parts of the U.S.

A celebrated drug dealer, Ricky reaped millions as an unknowing pawn of Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency operatives, who supplied him with unlimited amounts of cocaine. His suppliers used the profits to pay for the CIA-spawned Contra war versus Nicaragua's leftist government in the 1980s. Ricky's connections were first revealed in a series of articles published by the San Jose Mercury News and in court testimony.

He granted The Final Call an exclusive interview at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is awaiting sentencing on cocaine trafficking charges.

The Contra connection

In his interview, Ricky described how he was seduced into the lucrative cocaine brokering market in 981. It would be more than a decade before Ricky would learn that his key supplier, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, a man whom he called a friend, had a master's degree in marketing and was a DEA informant, with connections to the CIA.

Known simply as "Freeway Rick," Ricky started out as a poor, illiterate, high school dropout from South Central Los Angeles and a talented tennis player.

At 19, Ricky said, an older teacher, who taught at a job center, turned him on to cocaine. Ricky said he looked up to the man and started selling cocaine for him.

The money was good. Ricky went solo. His teacher's Nicaraguan supplier and Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, supplied him.

Ricky's operation grew, soon he was one of the biggest cocaine dealers in South Central and Danilo Blandon became his sole supplier. Their business relationship grew personal, said Ricky, adding that he would spend time at Danilo's home, far from the crowded ghettoes of L.A.

Danilo schooled his portage in the art of staying "low key" and taught him how to market mass quantities of cocaine at bargain-basement prices, said Ricky.

"At first we were just getting eight ounces or so worth $16,000," he explained. "As time went on Danilo started supplying kilos (worth tens of millions of dollars). I don't know how it was possible. I didn't question him. Just took it as a blessing."

By 1984, "Freeway Rick" was a kingpin, with over a dozen crack houses in South Central, churning out $20,000 to $40,000 a day in profits. His network of drug dealers peddled a staggering 500,000 crack nuggets daily.

Ricky used cashiers' checks to but close to $6 million in property--motels, tire shops, junk yards, apartment buildings, houses. One day Ricky's partner was showing off a .22 pistol to Danilo. The next day Danilo brought him a brand new Uzi submachine gun "still in a box," and gave Ricky a .22 with a silencer.

Ricky and partner became gun dealers selling the Uzis, AK-47s, and Colt AR-15 assault rifles that became the trademark of bloody Crip versus Bloods gang wars and drive-by shooting in the 1980s.

Danilo once tried to sell his partner a grenade launcher, Ricky said.

Ricky traveled with Danilo to Detroit, Miami, Atlanta and New York. In New York, Ricky said, he met one of Danilo's dealers, who boasted of a 500-kilo-a-month operation worth about $10 million.

Ricky also knew Danilo was sending guns to the Contras. "After two or three years together, he told me that he got ran out of his country and they was trying to fight and get his country back," Ricky said.

Danilo Blandon, an illegal citizen and founder of one Contra army was once described by a federal prosecutor as one of the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealers in America.

Time to 'Chill Out'

In January 1987, with crack markets exploding in major cities, police went after L.A.'s crack problem. They formed the Freeway Rick Task Force dedicated to putting Ricky Ross out of business.

Ricky headed to Cincinnati with his girlfriend, who was battling crack addiction and had family there. They settled into a suburban home.

After a couple months, Ricky said, Danilo visited him and offered a cut into 13 kilos of cocaine that he needed distributed. Ricky went to work and soon monopolized Cincinnati's virgin crack market, using the same strategies and Nicaraguan drug connections.

He started selling crack as far away as Cleveland, Dayton, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

Ricky's luck ran out in 1988. One of his cocaine loads ran into a drug-sniffing dog at a New Mexico bus station and drug agents eventually connected it to him. He pleaded guilty to crack trafficking and received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence which began serving in 1990.

"Freeway Rick"
becomes an informant

Federal prosecutors from Los Angeles approached Ricky days after the arrest and offered a deal. If he would help prosecutors investigating a drug scandal engulfing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's elite narcotics squads, they would help cut down his jail time.

Ricky became a government informant.

"They wanted me to talk about searches the task force made on crack houses, money at the houses, did they beat up (people) or steal money," Ricky received five years off his sentence and an agreement that his remaining drug profits would not be seized.

He was still behind bars in 1994, awaiting parole, when San Diego DEA agents targeted him for a "reverse" sting, one in which government agents provide the drugs and the target provides the cash.

Within days of his parole and return to Los Angeles in October 1994, Ricky said, Danilo called him saying he had 600 kilos of cocaine worth about $12 million and he wanted Ricky to help sell it.

Ricky said he initially declined but later gave in to the persistent phone calls and obtained a buyer for 100 kilos of the cocaine Danilo claimed he had.

On March 2, 1995, in a parking lot near San Diego, Ricky looked inside a cocaine-laden Chevy Blazer. Suddenly the place was swarming with police.

Ricky jumped into a friend's pickup, sped off and was captured after the truck swerved into a hedgerow. He has been in jail without bond since.

Ricky stood trial in March and the government's star witness against him was his old friend, Danilo.

On Danilo's testimony, Ricky and two other men were convicted by an all-white jury of conspiracy charges, conspiring to sell the DEA's cocaine. Ricky now faces life in jail, with no chance for parole.

Ricky's eyes teared as he described Danilo's testimony, "It was like he was killing me. It was nothing I could do but sit there and take it. There's a tape they played in court where (Danilo) said, "I hate n-----s, but they pay cash,' "Ricky recalled.

"I would have died for him. He's the worst. When I see how (the government) twists the rules for him and they want to give me a life sentence, to me it's sickening."

Danilo received $45,000 in government rewards and expenses for Ricky's arrest, records show.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff postponed Ricky's Aug. 23 sentencing until Sept. 13 to allow his attorney, Alan Fenster, to question two inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego about their knowledge of Danilo Blandon's alleged drug dealing while working for the DEA.

Atty. Fenster told The Final Call that he hopes such testimony will convince the judge that Ricky deserves a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.

"Our contention is that (Ricky) was minding his own business and was an unsuspecting victim" of the DEA's reverse sting, Atty. Fenster said.

"If the judge finds government misconduct was so outrageous, she has the power to dismiss the charges," the attorney added. "This was a trial by ambush. The defense was denied information on Mr. Blandon that would impeach him. The government really sandbagged us."

Ricky, who taught himself to read and write about five years ago, said he could be looked at two ways: As a villain or as a victim.

Asked if he was every concerned about how crack cocaine was affecting the Black community, Ricky admits, "Not at first. It never crossed my mind."

He feels "partially responsible" for the legions of crack babies as well as addicts who prostitute themselves to sustain their drug habits.

"I took the drugs and I transferred them from (Danilo's) hands to their hands," Ricky concedes. "I feel that I was a 'strawberry' too. I was manipulated. I was just like the prostitute."

Ultimately, he said, the U.S. government is responsible for the crack epidemic. "They put it in our hands. They financed it. It was their planes that brought it over here," Ricky said. "Their guy, Oscar Danilo, Blandon, he set up the market. They picked me. I didn't go to Nicaragua. This could go higher than the CIA. They say that drugs corrupt whole governments."


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