Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Ninth Circuit Rejects New Trial Bid by ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross
By Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A South-Central Los Angeles man identified as a major crack cocaine dealer and sentenced to life imprisonment following his 1996 trial had his bid for a new trial rejected yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel held that the government’s admitted mishandling of an informant did not affect the verdict against “Freeway” Ricky Ross and was not so severe as to warrant overturning the conviction as a sanction.
Ross, who gained his nickname selling cocaine on Los Angeles freeway off-ramps in the 1980s, admitted his involvement in a 1994-1995 scheme to purchase a huge quantity of cocaine in San Diego County. But he claimed he was entrapped by the informant, Oscar Danilo Blandon.
That defense was rejected by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The Ninth Circuit later upheld the conviction but remanded for resentencing, and the term was reduced to 20 years.
Ross’ second appeal was based on Judge Marilyn L. Huff’s denial of his motion for new trial based on newly discovered information concerning Blandon, a civilian leader of a CIA-backed group of Contra guerrillas during the U.S.-sponsored war against the leftist Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.
Ross cited reports in the San Jose Mercury News, which linked the CIA to drug dealers assisting the Contras. The agency’s internal investigation reported no evidence of CIA dealing with Ross or Blandon, or of CIA drug trafficking with Contras. The report said, however, that the agency had continued to work with Contras suspected of drug trafficking.
The Mercury News later acknowledged serious flaws in its reporting, which caused an international furor.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service later acknowledged that the agent on the case, Robert Tellez Jr., sanitized Blandon’s files, allowing him to obtain permanent residency despite his own cocaine- related crimes. But the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that Tellez had acted on his own, without the knowledge or approval of his superiors.
The agent received an administrative rebuke and a demotion.
Testifying before Huff, Tellez said he mistakenly told prosecutors that Blandon’s green card had been approved before—and not after—his drug conviction, and that he failed to correct them when they repeated the error during Ross’ trial.
Ross argued that he was prejudiced by the government’s failure to disclose those immigration benefits Blandon received in exchange for his role as an informant.
But Judge Jane Restani of the Court of International Trade, sitting on the Ninth Circuit by designation, said that Ross’ admission that he participated in the drug scheme rendered the withholding of that information irrelevant unless it tended to establish the elements of entrapment—that the defendant was induced by a government agent to commit a crime that he was not already disposed toward committing.
Blandon didn’t induce Ross to participate in the scheme, in which Ross was anything but a reluctant participant, Restani concluded.
“Tellez’s illegal treatment of Blandon’s A-file, while perhaps allowing for speculation that the government would take other unlawful steps to induce Ross into the cocaine deal, does not refute the enthusiasm for the deal Ross displayed on audio tape,” the judge wrote.
While criticizing the prosecutors for not promptly disclosing what Tellez had done once they learned of it, Restani said it was not a case in which the district judge was required to exercise her supervisory power to throw out the conviction as a sanction for outrageous government misconduct.
“This case does not reveal the kind of widespread pattern of wrongdoing that would call for a new trial to send a message to the appropriate government agencies,” the jurist wrote. “It would be gratuitous in this instance to go through the motions of a new trial in the hope that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—the successor to the INS—or the [United States Attorney’s Office] would take notice and more vigorously exhort their personnel to observe legal and procedural standards. If prosecutors are under a duty to see that ‘guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer’...we cannot impugn the decision of the district court to preserve the indictment of one who is...clearly guilty.”
The case is United States v. Ross, 02-50226.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company