LOS ANGELES - Former Los Angeles County narcotics detective Bobby Juarez had heard lots of strange stories from drug dealers over the years, but nothing matched what came out of Ronald Jay Lister's mouth the morning Juarez raided the cocaine dealer's stately Mission Viejo home in 1986.
"(Lister) was standing there in his bathrobe, and I told him we were there to execute a search warrant," Juarez recalled in an interview Thursday at a Wilshire Boulevard coffee shop. "Lister looked at me and said, `I know what you're doing and you're not supposed to be here.' When I asked why not, he said he was working with the CIA."
Court records and FBI files say Lister, an ex-Laguna Beach burglary detective, was a central part of a Nicaraguan drug ring that was dumping thousands of kilos of cocaine into African-American neighborhoods in Los Angeles during the 1980s.
Recently, the San Jose Mercury News obtained long-suppressed copies of the police reports of the 1986 raid on the drug ring, interviewed members of the raid team, and obtained documents that officers say were seized from Lister's house. Together, they support a long-held belief by the police officers that there was CIA involvement in the Nicaraguan drug ring and the disappearance of evidence seized during the raids.
Juarez, the first member of the raid team to speak publicly about that day in October 1986, said he was not impressed by Lister's CIA claims. His official report of the encounter picks up the tale from there: "Mr. Lister . . . told me that he had dealings in South America and worked with the CIA, and added that his friends in Washington weren't going to like what was going on. I told Mr. Lister that we were not interested in his business in South America. Mr. Lister replied that he would call Mr. Weekly of the CIA and report me."
There is no further identification of "Mr. Weekly" in the documents. The search of two of Lister's residences yielded everything from military training manuals to a business proposal for surveillance and intelligence services for El Salvador's military and police.
Juarez said he was told a day after the raid that the CIA had taken that property out of the police evidence room. Though many of the raid records still exist, the report on the fate of Lister's property is missing.
According to a sworn statement police filed to obtain the search warrants, Lister and others were dealing drugs and laundering money on behalf of a CIA-sponsored guerrilla army in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, so it could buy weapons and supplies. The drug ring's L.A. boss, cocaine trafficker Danilo Blandon, has since become a highly trusted Drug Enforcement Agency informant and recently admitted the scheme under oath.
The CIA has denied any involvement with either Blandon or the drug ring's boss, Nicaraguan drug smuggler Norwin Meneses, both of whom were top civilian officials in the intelligence agency's anti-communist Contra army. A Mercury News series in August detailed the role of Blandon and Meneses in introducing cheap powder cocaine into African-American Los Angeles neighborhoods, which eventually led to the nationwide crack explosion.
Juarez, now 51, was one of dozens of police officers and federal agents that fanned out through Los Angeles and Orange County that day to break up Blandon's drug operation. Federal agents had known for several years before the raid that the ring was selling large amounts of cocaine in South Central Los Angeles.
Like several other deputies who participated in the raid - including the raid's leader - Juarez later was indicted and convicted of skimming drug money from dealers arrested by his elite anti-drug unit, Majors 2.
Dozens of pages of records relating to the 1986 raid were obtained from the sheriff's office by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, on Wednesday when she walked in unannounced and demanded them. The department had repeatedly told the Mercury News that the records did not exist. Waters gave copies of the records to the newspaper.
Sheriff Sherman Block repeatedly has declined comment on the files.
The files corroborate many of the claims made in a legal motion filed during the 1990 corruption trial of Deputy Daniel Garner, another narcotics officer who raided Blandon's drug ring. The motion, filed by Garner's attorney Harlan Braun, claimed military training manuals, photos of Contra bases and documents linking the U.S. government to money laundering and cocaine dealing were hauled out of the houses raided by the deputies that morning.
Braun was served with a federal gag order after he told the media in 1990 that he had proof that the U.S. government was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
The inventory prepared by Juarez of items taken from Lister's houses includes training manuals, military training films, photos and financial statements.
One of the most inflammatory claims in Braun's 1990 motion opposing the gag order was that CIA agents appeared at the sheriff's station within 48 hours of the raid and took away Lister's documents.
Juarez confirmed that "everything we took out of that one house of Lister's disappeared. . . . I came in the next day and (Deputy) Dan (Garner) said: `Well, Bobby, you missed it. The CIA came in and took everything out of the property room.' And, sure enough, when I went to look, it was all gone."
The only things clearly missing from the files given to Waters are records showing what became of Lister's seized files. Waters said the sheriff's office could not explain why there was no record of that property being taken out of the evidence room.
Before the documents vanished, however, detectives made copies of a few of the files and hid them. One of those detectives was Juarez, who provided the Mercury News with a copy of an Oct. 18, 1982, business proposal he said he found inside Lister's house. There are 10 documents taken from Lister's house that are still under seal in Los Angeles federal court, according to Braun.
The business proposal, written in Spanish on the letterhead of Pyramid International Security Consultants Inc., is addressed to Gen. Juan Guillermo Garcia, El Salvador's minister of defense and public security. Pyramid International, a company Lister told the FBI in 1986 that he owned, offered to provide security, surveillance and intelligence services for the newly elected right-wing government of El Salvador.
"A few months ago, and after the recent elections, (Pyramid) started conversations with the government of El Salvador with the conviction of being able to assist the new government in its goal of fighting against the tyrannic forces of the left, promoted and assisted by the current governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and the Soviet Union," the proposal begins.
The proposal, stamped "Confidential" on every page and translated by a court interpreter hired by the Mercury News, discusses ways to keep important military and industrial installations protected from sabotage and terrorism.
Among the unnamed company officials listed in the proposal are a "specialist in the design and manufacture of unique weapons," "technicians with the CIA in physical security for 20 years" and an unnamed 1948 graduate of Northwestern University who is a retired naval intelligence officer with experience in "the administration of the compulsion of drugs."