A walk down the dark side reveals recklessness at the House of Death
Take a walk down a little-known street, 3633 Calle Parsioneros. The house is located in a middle-class neighborhood of Juarez and it is the location of a murder spree, one that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would closely monitor.
It began on a hot summer afternoon and ended in winter with several DEA agents’ lives in peril. The secret would not be revealed until one DEA agent put pen to paper, Sandalio Gonzalez. This case began the way most do. Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’ would be known as informant 913. His new job was spying on his boss and delivering tape-recorded conversations to his ICE handler, Raul Bencomo.
“The government’s reckless attitude for Lalo’s life was astonishing. Each time he crossed into Juarez his life was in danger. But each time Lalo came in for debriefing he had a lot of credible information for us,” Bencomo said. “If I had to talk about his honesty, I’d say he was honest 90 percent of the time.”
Lalo’s attorney, Jodi Goodwin, concurred, “Lalo was responsible for more than 60 arrests and convictions as well as millions of dollars in product and cash that were confiscated.”
When it came to informants, Lalo was reliable. He showed up on time, provided good information and only expected a fair price for the work he performed for the U.S. government. According to his attorney, Goodwin and a reliable source close to the case, Lalo is owed more than $500,000 from the government.
Lalo explains ICE placed his life in harms way a number of times. “They (ICE) didn’t understand my position with the recorder, I couldn’t just turn it on or off in front of Santillan without drawing suspicion. After the first murder I was told to keep going but try to not record any more murders. This was very dangerous,” Lalo explains from his new home at an ICE detention facility.
Don’t record any more murders was the ICE supervisors concern. They didn’t seem too concerned with human life, according to Lalo. The first murder to be taped should have been the last, but ICE got greedy, in fact Lalo was working concurrent case involving cigarettes and ICE Associate Special Agent in Charge Patty Kramer and Special Agent in Charge John Gaudioso shockingly thought this case “would make their careers,” according to ICE Agent Bencomo.
It was here that Bencomo wanted out. When Lalo came in for the not-so-routine debriefing, Bencomo and his supervisors had to listen to the recording of a murder. “It was so graphic that I got physically ill and had to throw up,” Bencomo explained. “I wanted out. After the first murder I didn’t want to be a part of this, however I was ordered to stick with it.”
Once the House of Death case came to its conclusion, Lalo and his common-law wife and two children were brought into the United States to start their new lives.
It didn’t work out that way. A few months after Lalo disengaged with his informant duties, there was an attempt on his life. And once the details of the grizzly murders began to surface, questions were asked and Lalo was found out. The cartel he once worked for was now after him – a death warrant was issued.
At this point, Lalo had no other choice and he was taken into protective custody. He thought the country he worked for would keep up their end of the deal. The information ICE was able to procure resulted in multiple arrests and a lot of money and drugs. Lalo had no idea that the country he risked his life for would soon turn on him.
Did ICE and Department of Homeland Security not use the information? Was Lalo charged in America or Mexico with any crime? No. Lalo had something much more valuable – his testimony could put a lot of U.S. government employees in jail for allowing murders to take place, for being accessories to murders, for conspiring to obstruct justice, and for corruption that led straight to Washington D.C.
For the last five years Lalo has been in prison, solitary confinement, without TV or Internet access, his crime – fighting a deportation charge. “If the U.S. deports me it is a death sentence because I’m a very big prize for the cartels. They will make me an example for others who consider working for the Americans,” Lalo explains on the phone from the detention facility.
The never-ending legal quagmire
The legal time line for Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro’s (Lalo) removal from the U.S. began in April of 2005. There have been many court dates in different regions of the country for what amounts to judge shopping by a corrupted Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) within the Justice Department.
“They (U.S. government) want to find a judge that will send me to my death in Mexico, I don’t understand why they want to burn me. I did everything they asked me to do,” Lalo said.
On May 1, 2005, Lalo received a positive credible fear determination by an Asylum Officer and approval by a Supervisory Asylum Officer in late May of 2005. This would lead to Lalo’s initial trial before an immigration Judge who granted his first ‘Convention Against Torture Protection’ in August of the same year.
Goodwin, Lalo’s attorney found out exactly how much the government wanted Lalo returned to Mexico in January 2006. “This was the first BIA decision reversing immigration judge’s decision and it sent us to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to fight for Lalo’s life.”
During the first 8th Circuit Court hearing, overwhelming amounts of evidence was put forward and in the end the Court ruled in Lalo’s favor. “It looked like I would be out and the case would finally be over, but it wasn’t,” Lalo said. “The decision by the 8th Circuit Court remanded the case to BIA and that resulted in another hearing in February of 2007.”
The second hearing before the immigration judge regarding the granting of ‘Convention Against Torture Protection’ was on October 11, 2007.
Lalo would win his second 8th Circuit Court of Appeal case in August of 2009, therefore one would think the nightmare for Lalo would finally come to a close, but sadly it did not.
A motion was filed by DHS with the BIA to remand the case to an immigration judge on December 31, 2009, and a response brief was filed on behalf of Ramirez Peyro “Lalo” in opposition to the DHS motion to remand.
Lalo now awaits the decision from immigration judges and hopes to win his case for a third time. A disheartened Lalo says; “The depressing part of this is each time I go through the court process it takes more than two years. Why are they doing this?”
Not only does this back and forth in the courts cost money, it proves the government is afraid of what Lalo can testify to. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton had cartel leader Santillan on multiple murders, but after the Joint Assessment Team (JAT) report was obtained regarding the entire House of Death incident, the murder charges were dropped. Why?
Lalo makes a good witness.
He can testify to the orders he took from an over-zealous ICE office in El Paso, Texas. “I can testify to every detail of my duties for ICE,” he says.
To this day the JAT report has been buried in Washington D.C. and the back and forth inside the judicial system and obvious judge shopping is further proof the U.S. government doesn’t want Lalo to testify. “They want me dead,” Lalo says.
His attorney, House of Death insiders and family all agree that the government wants Lalo to disappear. Once Lalo is gone the embarrassing House of Death case that has left DHS, DOJ, ICE and DEA with a black eye, will forever be swept under the mat.
Former U.S. Attorney Pete Nunez has this to say about the House of Death. “A new book by George Grayson ‘Mexico, Narco-Violence and a Failed State?’ includes a page or two on the House of Death. From what he says, it would appear that this is not a very well kept secret.”
It looks like the government is hiding in plain sight.
The fallout from House of Death
The only employee left holding the bag was Lalo’s handler, Raul Bencomo. In typical fashion ICE kept Bencomo on paid administrative leave for more than four years before letting him go. Bencomo was never in a position of authority when it came to the House of Death and after the first murder he even wanted out. However, his superiors demanded he stick with it and in the end he alone would be holding the bag, losing not only his job, but also his reputation in law enforcement.
The final ruling by ICE explained it this way; “When the Santillan investigation began, 913 (Lalo) was highly connected in the Santillan organization and provided copious amounts of information to the agency regarding illegal operations. After he was involved in the murder of an individual associated with the Santillan organization, agency management instructed the agents, including Bencomo, that 913 (Lalo) could remain active, but could not be involved in any more serious crimes, such involvement was to be reported up the chain of command.”
“On November 25, 2003, 913 (Lalo) called Bencomo and told him that there had been two additional murders on November 23, 2003. Because the group supervisor in charge of the investigation was on leave Bencomo advised another group supervisor, Curtis Compton, that 913 (Lalo) had information about two murders. Compton instructed Bencomo to bring 913 (Lalo) into the office for a debriefing. That same day, Bencomo and Special Agent Luis Rico debriefed 913 (Lalo) regarding the two murders. After several incidents involving drug smuggling activities and murders, 913 was deactivated as a source in March 2004.”
Soon after ICE would remove Bencomo and place him on paid administrative leave eventually firing him some four years later for alleged misconduct.
Part three tomorrow