Cocaine and real estate often go together in San Diego, especially along the dusty strip of border land known as Otay Mesa. Some of the district's biggest land deals were financed by drug money. One of its most ambitious construction projects was a 1400-foot tunnel leading from Tijuana to the American side of the mesa, the better to smuggle coke with. Promoters of the mesa don't like to talk about coke, money laundering, and methamphetamine trading, but they have been a foundation of the mesa's prosperous economy.
Take the case of Michael Blevins and the Ellis brothers, Michael and Joseph. Mike Ellis and Mike Blevins are partners in Metabolife, the controversial diet-drug maker. Joe Ellis is a Metabolife distributor. Back in October 1988, Blevins and Michael Ellis were also codefendants in a federal case charging them with conspiring to make and distribute methamphetamine from a rented house in Rancho Santa Fe.
Blevins was sentenced to three years in the federal lockup at Boron in the Mojave Desert. Mike Ellis got five years' probation. In 1995, a federal judge allowed them to resume working together, and the result was Metabolife, a business that sells a diet drug containing the stimulant ephedrine, a key ingredient of methamphetamine.
Metabolife has been a generous campaign contributor to local politicians, including Republican congressman Brian Bilbray and county supervisor Ron Roberts, now a candidate for mayor of San Diego. The company has also paid enormous sums to sponsor the San Diego Padres, and given $50,000 to last year's campaign for a taxpayer-subsidized downtown baseball stadium.
But before they were busted in 1988 and subsequently began their lucrative careers in the herbal drug business, according to court records, Mike Blevins and Mike Ellis were doing real estate deals on Otay Mesa, along with Joseph Ellis, Mike's brother, a then-prominent Otay Mesa real estate broker who was president of an outfit called Solidus Property Systems. Federal prosecutors would later claim that the money Blevins invested on the mesa was tainted by cocaine.
The ties between the Ellis family and Blevins family, both from Chula Vista, run deep. "Michael Ellis and I have been best friends since 1967," Blevins wrote to federal Judge John Rhoades when Blevins was seeking clemency in November 1995. "But more than friends, Mike and I are brothers and always have been. His problems are my problems and my problems are his. I smile and he laughs. Mike and his wife have three children, and I feel like I have a family."
Divorce records show that Blevins's parents, Robert Lee Blevins and Joan Price, were married July 8, 1950, and were separated 18 years later on December 3, 1968. Michael Lee Blevins was born December 23, 1950. His friend Michael Ellis was born two years later, on January 18, 1953. Ellis's father was in the clothing business. Blevins's father Robert, according to federal allegations, was a dealer in illicit drugs.
By October 1983, when he filed for divorce from Joan, Robert Blevins was living on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, while Joan remained at the family home on King Street in Chula Vista. By then Robert, according to allegations in federal court records, was working alongside his son Michael dealing coke. In an affidavit filed in a 1989 seizure case the federal government filed against Blevins, IRS agent Thomas W. Fox said he was told by San Francisco police that "Robert Blevins, Mike Blevins's father, had been selling cocaine and methamphetamine for over 12 years."
Blevins would later say that it was his dysfunctional home life that cemented his relationship with the Ellis family.
"Mike's father and mother took me in and fed and clothed and sheltered me when I was 16," Blevins wrote in his letter to Judge Rhoades. "They provided me with the only family environment I have ever known in my life. These ties have never dissipated over the years. A consequence worse than prison was that I had to face Mike's father. Even after what I had done, Mike's father and mother continued to offer me their support. In spite of my objections, they sent money to me in prison because they wanted to be sure I had what I needed. The Ellises are my only family."
In 1984, Joan Blevins suffered a debilitating stroke and had to be placed in a conservatorship under her daughter's care. Joan was "verbal but not conversant," according to court documents. "Her speech consists of gibberish." She was hospitalized at UCSD Medical Center, which in December 1984 filed suit against her to collect $21,595.63 in unpaid medical bills. She died five years later, in January 1989. By then, according to court records, Michael Blevins's drug-dealing career was well underway.
According to the allegations, Blevins's criminal history dated back to at least 1972, when he was 22 and already a prosperous San Diego dope dealer. In his affidavit, Fox relates that Jerry Bordeaux, "a former friend and business associate of Michael Blevins," said that between 1972 and 1975, Bordeaux "smuggled in excess of 4000 kilos of marijuana from Mexico into the United States on behalf of Jim Spencer of San Diego." Bordeaux said he met Blevins through Spencer, "who introduced Blevins as one of his three customers who were purchasing marijuana from him."
Fox said he had seen Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) records showing that "Michael Blevins and a George Mainas were arrested by the DEA in San Francisco in February/March 1975 on charges of distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The records also reflected that during the DEA's undercover negotiations with Blevins, Blevins had indicated that he was capable of delivering five to ten pounds of cocaine and large quantities of marijuana through his source of supply, who was located in San Diego, California. Blevins added that the marijuana was brought into the United States from Mexico and that his marijuana trafficking represented a substantial amount of his income."
By the early 1980s, Fox said, Michael Blevins was hanging out with reputed Chicago mobster Sam Sarcinelli, who "headed a large-scale narcotics trafficking organization, which at its peak moved approximately 200 kilos of cocaine per month from the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area to distribution points that included Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, Denver, and the Los Angeles area, where Sarcinelli maintained one of his personal residences."