House of Death in Juarez, prelude to a massive murder cover-up
Blinded by death, shrouded in secrecy and driven by recklessness could be used to describe the Mexican drug cartels – however, these terms are used to describe our own government agency, ICE.
It started with cold-blooded murder and it ended with at least a dozen lives ripped apart all with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. government, which included the slaying of a U.S. citizen as well as related murder that took place in El Paso. The story line reads like a fiction novel by James Patterson, but the sad reality ends with cover-up after cover-up.
This tale begins in the summer of 2003 with a drug cartel attorney being lured to a non-descript house in a middle-class neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez. He is led to believe he will receive phone numbers for a New York player to distribute some “candy” or layman’s terms – drugs.
In the company of friends, Fernando lets his guard down unaware that somewhere in this den of horror are two Chihuahua State Police waiting for their opportunity to take down a once trusted friend.
In the blink of an eye, Fernando’s life is turned upside down and he knows the jig is up. He, in typical drug trafficker fashion, begins begging for his life, but also in typical drug cartel fashion death is a certainty and it will only be minutes for Fernando to meet his maker.
Unbeknownst to anyone in the room, there is a U.S. snitch recording the entire murder scene and as the struggle unfolds it is the snitch who adds assistance to the police in subduing Fernando’s last breathes of life.
The brutality is not yet over, unsure if the lawyer is dead; they grab a shovel and bash in the victim’s head and neck. Ironically, the shovel that finishes off Fernando will be used to bury him in the backyard.
This little house of horrors would come to be known as the ‘House of Death’ and would bare witness to at least eleven more murders all under the watchful eyes of the U.S. government.
The snitch, Lalo, aka Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez-Peyro would continue under Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) watchful eyes and earn approximately $250,000 for partaking in a 12-person crime-spree that should have ended with just one.
This murderous rampage went on for more than six months and nearly cost the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lives as well as immediate family members. How could an arm of the U.S. government let this go on for so long? How could they lend their name to grim reaper operations?
In the end, one DEA agent blew the whistle and ended the nonsense. Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez, special agent in charge of DEA in El Paso Texas.
Back in Juarez, the House of Death is beginning to get a name for itself. Lalo is there every step of the way. Lalo or Ramirez-Peyro begins his journey into crime like many other Mexican drug cartel members; Lalo was a federal highway patrolman for a year.
His natural progression leads him into the world of crime. Lalo begins his new life as a drug trafficker working on cocaine shipments from Colombia for the Medellin cartel. It is during this time the Mexican drug cartels are on the rise. The Americans were successful in bringing down the world’s most famous Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar.
It is now when three Mexican cartels begin the Federation, Juarez, Tijuana and the Gulf all begin their push to dominate the drug business. If you’re wondering why Mexico is the next big drug capital, more than 80 percent of the world’s drug supply is consumed by a very hungry U.S. customer.
Lalo begins his rise in the drug business and takes note of the high rate of mysterious disappearances of coworkers. Lopping off of heads, suffocation and ice picking are on the rise south of the border and Lalo wants an out. He reads a newspaper advertisement in which the U.S. is looking for informants.
He meets his eventual handler, Raul Bencomo, a U.S. Customs agent and Lalo, informant 913 begins his perceived-noble career as an informant. In the grand scheme of things Lalo is just a number, one that would result in U.S. participation in murder and a string of cover-ups.
The war on drugs is in full swing and the government and police are not winning. The U.S. DEA office launches a joint task force named “Operation Sky High.” The jest of the operation is to work with Mexican counterparts to bring down the drug cartels with shared information.
“We (DEA) do our best to work with informants in a legal way,” said Gonzalez. “It’s hard top fight a war on a substance which is exactly what the U.S. Government has claimed to do dating back to 1973.”
In his typical matter of fact manner, Gonzalez explains fighting wars is for the military. He also points out that law enforcement’s job is to apprehend criminal elements within society’s underworld.
One of the targets is Lalo’s boss, Heriberto Santillan-Tabares who runs the Juarez cartel activities. As an informant Lalo provides good information to his handlers. The pieces are coming together and an architectural case is beginning to unfold.
Then Lalo gets greedy and is popped by Border Patrol in New Mexico with 100 pounds of marijuana. He is initially deactivated by the DEA but his ICE handlers think he is too valuable to let go and they give him a second chance.
This is a point of contention with Gonzalez. “The DEA made the right call in letting Lalo go. It was ICE’s management mistake to keep him on the payroll.”
After a night of drinking with his boss, Santillan, Lalo learns of an execution taking place the next day. This gives the informant some pause and his paranoia leads him to believe he will be the victim.
A phone call to his handlers, yields the first acknowledged murder, it would not be Lalo, but Santillan’s childhood friend-turned-attorney.
ICE receives a full accounting of the slaying two days later and learns of Lalo’s participation. However, after U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s office and El Paso ICE agents advised their Washington D.C. and Mexico City counterparts, Lalo is given the green light to continue carrying on his double-agent status.
After this meeting Lalo is ordered to not wear the wire for ICE.
Once the DEA in Juarez learns of the murder they begin legwork to find the body and recommend taking down Santillan as soon as possible. ICE blows off a meeting with the Juarez DEA and continue full steam ahead.
The murders continue through the fall into the winter. It is here that Lalo understands the term his boss refers to as ‘carne asada’- it translates into torture and execution. ICE decides to wire tap Lalo and Santillan’s phones leaving the U.S. agencies open to allegations as co-conspirators in murder.
This continues to be the norm for the next days and weeks to come. Lalo claims he is told about each and every carne asada that takes place at the House of Death. He also claims to inform his handlers in ICE.
The drug cartels maintain their power through the use of violence and brutality. Their wealth increases on a daily basis and their yearly net worth is said to be in the $10 billion range.
During the last of the murders at the House of Death, Santillan learns an address of a man he believes has a large stash of dope living in Juarez. Santillan flies off the handle when he finds the exact address and plans his attack. However, it is by pure happenstance they found out about the DEA agent, Homer McBrayer and his family.
Luckily, McBrayer is called by his frantic wife. He returns home and plans his escape immediately. With his family tucked inside the car, McBrayer attempts to flee from Mexico.
Unfortunately for ICE the car is pulled over by a marked Juarez police car, which leads to Santillan calling Lalo to check on the identity of the occupants in the car were. Once, Lalo checks with his ICE handlers and learns that this death squad has a DEA agent in their sight, that’s when ICE notifies DEA that its personnel is at risk in Juarez. DEA then evacuates their personnel from Juarez.
This is a lesson learned by the bad guys after the infamous murder of DEA Agent Kiki Camerena in the 1980s is don’t kill DEA agents, which is why they let them go.
Another ICE agent explains that south of the border; Mexicans live by the “Plata o Plomo” rule, “silver wins over lead.”
This ICE agent, who wished to remain anonymous, says “ICE is so screwed up that the running joke is they would probably give an immigrant visa to Osama Bin Laden.”
Looking back at the mistakes that plagued the House of Death case, ICE has a lot of explaining to do, yet to this day an investigation into the alleged wrongdoings misdoings of the U.S. government have yet to see the light of day, according to a source within ICE.
At this point it’s game over and the cover-up begins.
Coming part two
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