After more than five years of battles in the immigration courtroom, ICE informant “Lalo” escapes deportation orders to Mexico. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) office ruled Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could no longer partake in fact finding investigations seeking to deport the informant they paid more than $250,000 to nab dangerous cartels in Juarez, Mexico.
The Appeal’s board ruled in Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’s’ favor finding there was sufficient evidence that the ICE informant would be tortured and murdered if he was ordered back to Mexico.
“The decision does not leave open any further fact finding and finally is a determination by the BIA of the Department of Justice that Lalo should be granted Convention Against Torture protection,” said Jodi Goodwin the attorney handling the BIA case.
“This is a super-huge victory that has been five-long years in the making. At this point, Lalo is protected from being removed to Mexico where he would be tortured and killed,” she explained.
The next step in Lalo’s legal plight will be to force the government to finally release him from solitary confinement. He has endured prison for nearly six years with no television, no computer and no contact with the outside world.
“Lalo was happy to hear of the decision today when I spoke with him, however he does not understand the ultra-huge legal victory as it pales in comparison to the suffering he has endured at the hands of the government in solitary confinement over these years,” Goodwin said.
In a telephone interview with Lalo he explained his position on the favorable ruling. “I’m glad there is no more excuses with the deportation charges. There is overwhelming evidence that I would be killed if I returned to my country.”
“I was responsible for more than 60 drug cartel arrests and convictions, including high level cartel members and the Juarez drug bosses have a very long memory,” he said.
The House of Death located at 3633 Calle Parsioneros gained notoriety in Juarez, Mexico in 2004. 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 (ICE) would closely monitor.
This case began the way most do. Lalo would be known as informant 913. His new job was spying on his cartel 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 explained.
It’s no secret that Juarez is presently the most violent city in Mexico and murders take place on a daily basis. But does it mean the U.S. government should be complicit when said murders are known to take place? This is exactly what happened after the first murder at the House of Death in Juarez.
A full five months would pass before the truth comes out. During those five months, eleven more murders will be committed.
A meeting took place right after the first murder between FBI, DEA and ICE to discuss the Mexican Police corruption matter as well as the murder. However, ICE blew the meeting off, according to Sandalio Gonzalez the DEA agent who blew the whistle on the out of control case and is now retired. “This should have ended at the August 11, 2003 meeting.”
“Once it was known that at least 12 murders had taken place at the house, ICE would not let Lalo give a statement to the Mexican authorities for several weeks,” Gonzalez said. “He finally gave his statement regarding the violence and brutality that took place in Juarez from August 2003 to January 2004.”
Lalo was remanded into custody shortly thereafter. He was told it was for his own protection, little did Lalo know this incarceration would leave him in solitary confinement for six years and counting. “I’m treated worse than the really bad offenders and I did nothing wrong.” Lalo has never been charged with any crimes, yet he remains behind bars for his so-called protection.
In other words he trusted the U.S. government to honor their promises. The management at ICE promised more money (it’s estimated they owe Lalo more than $500,000, according to ICE employees) and they promised is common-law wife and children safety.
“Instead they have taken seven years of my life that I can never get back, I’ve got no job, I can’t see my kids and the suffering inside of me is very difficult to cope with,” Lalo explains.
“I’ve been kidnapped from my life!”
The ruling this week in Lalo’s favor is the first win he has obtained that moves the productive ICE informant closer to freedom.
“The recent decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals in the case of Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’, which follows decisions by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and a U.S. Immigration Judge, is a breath of fresh air that goes a long way towards restoring my faith in our system of justice. We need to monitor the next step in the process which must be Mr. Peyro’s release from custody followed by a Congressional investigation of the cover up surrounding the “House of Death” debacle,” said Gonzalez.
While Lalo feels the victory is a step in the right direction he can’t help but question the validity of the U.S. government. “I always believed this was the most fair country in the world. After all these years I’m no longer sure about America.”
The case will now head towards demanding Lalo’s release. The process contains no guarantees and Lalo says he will turn to a new attorney to get him out of prison. “I guess with my new attorney I’m hopeful of the outcome, but I can say ICE continues to act like cowards.”
Lalo’s case has garnered attention from those in Washington D.C. and journalists alike. “There are many people working behind the scenes for me, I want to thank them for their help. One day the government will realize they are wrong and I will be free to return to my life.”
Understanding the magnitude of the situation Lalo says he is sad he hasn’t been able to be a proper father, to be a part of the daily activities others take for granted. “Just knowing that I have a chance keeps me going. I now know this little victory can lead to me winning the war and walking out a free man.”
A new chance, a new attorney
“I am very pleased to see there is still some flicker of justice in the sense that the government can no longer deport Lalo. Of course, I hope that people realize that the BIA’s decision won’t result in him being released, or preventing them from planting something on him so he can continue to be held. I have seen how our government handles cases when they want to discredit someone or make something go away. However, this is where his new counsel, Steve Cohen, my longtime friend and one of our organization’s Associate Counsels, can step up and bring him even further relief,” said Andy Ramirez.
Ramirez has personally seen Cohen’s work in difficult cases such as U.S. vs. Customs Officer Robert Rhodes a few years back. Officer Rhodes was prosecuted at the request of the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China who personally called then Secretary of State Colin Powell, and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge after an incident that resulted in the apprehension of one drug trafficker who was meeting up with three Chinese Nationals with expired Visas at the Niagara Falls, NY Port of Entry.
Within hours of the minister’s calls to his counterpart Powell and to Sec. Ridge, Rhodes was ordered back to the Port, arrested, and prosecuted. With Cohen’s skill and expertise, Officer Rhodes took on the full weight of the U.S. and Beijing Governments and won the sole 12-0 acquittal in what Ramirez has called the (U.S.) War on Law Enforcement.
The purpose of this case, like those that took place along the U.S. – Mexico border was to give a scalp to a foreign government while sending a powerful message to the agents and officers protecting America.
“However, the Rhodes case, without question, was the most egregious and I would know having investigated as many as I have,” Ramirez said.
“The Bush and Obama Administrations know that this is a torture/murder case and the rule of law clearly went out the window under the knowledge of the highest ranking officials in Washington, DC and Mexico City. That is the very reason why our government continued to fight to deport “Lalo” the ICE Informant as he is a material witness, so they could silence him and as a result, they felt it would all go away,” he said.
The fact remains, those involved and responsible for the case and subsequent cover-up, like former U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, must be brought to justice, and Lalo needs to be released from the unlawful violation of both the U.S. Constitution and basic human rights by the government, says Ramirez.
“While his previous counsel is proclaiming a major victory, I am not convinced Ms. Goodwin did all she could to secure his release. To me it is a partial victory as he remains incarcerated. However, I know Mr. Cohen will go all out to right this wrong. Perhaps Congress will at last do the right thing and not only put a stop into the continued attempts by ICE to deport their informants, but take a long, hard look at both the Justice Department and Homeland Security and clean house once and for all. It is imperative that they restore their oversight role, and equally important – the rule of law itself.”
The only certainty with the House of Death case and Lalo’s unlawful imprisonment is justice has not been served and until those involved are fully investigated, including U.S. officials (retired and active duty alike), will Lalo be able to look back at these dark years and know he did the right thing.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are quickly gaining attention within the war on drugs. This war is a deadly one fought day in and day out along the U.S. borders and well as cities that serve as distribution centers for the warring Mexican cartels.
Having confidential informants on the company payroll is a necessity to infiltrate the violent drug cartels and other organized crime syndicates. Some are double agents looking to elude authorities, others looking to work off a court conviction and others who may have got in over their heads and are looking for redemption.
Since ICE’s inception there have been eight agents investigated for improper informant handlings and more than 35 agents have been reported as being involved with questionable actions.
Documents and interviews have shown ICE handlers involvement with underreported debriefings, failure to document informant actions, drug use and improper sexual relations.
The El Paso ICE office sits in the heartland for drug cartels that carry the products across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico where more than 14,000 murders have been committed since the renewed drug war in 2004.
No matter the reason, most ICE informants place their lives on the line for the U.S. government; some even succumb to violent attacks and die while providing inside information. Many say the alphabet soup government agencies need a new rule book when it comes to handling informants and promising them U.S. citizenship when their service is finished.
The most infamous House of Death informant
Describing the mishandling of the House of Death case and ICE’s treatment of confidential informants goes something like this – what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. Not only has the House of Death incident never been fully investigated, but also none of the DEA, ICE and DHS management officials responsible for supervising the case have been reprimanded.
No rule books were written to ensure U.S. law enforcement agencies could ever take part in covering-up a dozen murders that crossed international borders with Mexico. And there has been no closure for the once-prized ICE informant, Lalo.
A common fact that many news stories and ICE representatives in Washington D.C. conveniently leave out about this gruesome murder tale is the fact each time informant 913 – Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’ was debriefed about his visits south of the border, several ICE agents and supervisors were present in the interrogation room.
Interestingly the names of supervisors present at the debriefings is not secret; Patty Kramer, Curtis Compton, Todd Johnson as well as many others. All these players knew the high stakes murder game being played south of the border, yet none made any effort to shut the little shop of horrors down.
Nope, ICE would have carried on with their reckless law enforcement ways if a lone DEA Special Agent in Charge, Sandalio Gonzalez hadn’t blown the whistle on the House of Death case.
He contends, “Members of Congress have been, and are being bamboozled by the Executive Branch on this issue. By failing to ask the tough questions relevant to this case makes Congress complicit with the federal law enforcement agencies involved in the House of Death cover up.”
Informant 913, Lalo says ICE was “short-minded.”
“I’ve been told by El Paso Police that there is a price on my head right now. I can’t believe ICE headquarters in Washington D.C. has no respect for my family,” Lalo explains.
The big prize in this case was the number three guy in the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) drug organization Heriberto Santillan-Tabares. ICE’s tunnel vision would place Lalo in numerous life-threatening situations. Finally the House of Death case came crashing down on January 14, 2004; when several DEA agents in Juarez, Mexico were placed in danger by irate cartel leaders looking for missing product.
“At this point, I could have disengaged from ICE and found an excuse with my health to cut loose from the cartel and went home to resume my normal life. But ICE got greedy and wanted me to lure Santillan to El Paso, get him to talk one last time and then arrest him,” Lalo explains.
The pressure from ICE was too much and after many promises were made to Lalo and his family, informant 913 embarked on one last ICE mission. “Getting Santillan to El Paso was nerve-racking, but I thought it would be worth it in the end. I was wrong, I was very, very wrong.”
When Lalo originally brought his intelligence information to ICE he says he wasn’t aiming to move to America. “I had a good life in Mexico. I was only foolish when I thought my intelligence would be used in a noble way.”
Many ICE employees will vouch for Lalo’s good work ethic. “I was a good performer, my cases were solid there were no holes and all of my cases ICE brought to court plead out because I didn’t arouse any suspicion.”
However, that would not be enough for ICE, they wanted informant 913 to waste away in prison or suffer death in Mexico as a means to ensure that ICE’s misdoings would never make it to a courtroom or even the court of public opinion. “They are trying to make me crazy by keeping me in solitary confinement or to kill me by sending me to a country where the cartels are the government.”
Despite two Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions in his favor, Lalo remains holed up in a Buffalo Detention Facility awaiting another day in court. “They profited by my work and they never gave me the opportunity to disappear in Mexico, they always wanted more. I did everything they wanted me to do. Now I can’t even have my father (who has been a legal resident in the U.S. for 25 years) petition for me to stay in the country, I’m doomed,” Lalo says with sadness in his voice.
The position that Lalo has been placed in by ICE management doesn’t help his ICE handler Raul Bencomo sleep at night. “I was in the room when all the supervisors promised Lalo protection for himself and his family, my bosses just wanted more and more from Lalo.”
The greed and cover-up lasted for an additional four-and-a-half years for Bencomo. After years of trying to get Lalo and other informants to turn on Bencomo and place the blame for the House of Death at his feet, ICE in Washington D.C, decided to fire him for a bogus non-reporting of another informant charge. “The fix was in, I would be the sole agent to lose my job,” he said.
Not only would Bencomo lose the job he loved, his integrity and reputation would be lost with the flick of a pen. He would later find out that FBI and ICE tried to get other informants to sign declaration statements and fudge polygraph tests to further their humiliation against a once-well respected agent.
“I gave them 20 years of my life, received award certificates from DEA in Juarez and claimed money and vacation prizes from ICE, but in the end they used me.”
Bencomo says the fight is not over for him; he will appeal ICE’s decision and work on clearing his integrity and law enforcement reputation. “My coworkers at the El Paso office will testify on my behalf, I just want to clear my name and set the record straight.”
Bencomo also states the disorder in this case stems from the embarrassment ICE headquarters in D.C. would surely face if this all went public.
Lalo’s attorney Jodi Goodwin concurs. “Washington D.C. doesn’t want Lalo to ever see a courtroom in which he can name names and place the blame for the House of Death case squarely where it belongs- on ICE management.”
She explains the biggest blunder ICE made was to let D.C. headquarters call the shots. “This case falls 100 percent on Lalo’s side. He will be murdered if they force him to return to a country where the drug cartels want him dead. If they would have held up their part of the deal and let him disappear, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Instead Goodwin admits that ICE will continue to push Lalo to his psychological limits and keep him in solitary confinement as a way to break him down. Lalo agrees, “They (ICE) are trying to kill me slowly in prison. It’s just not right, I did nothing wrong.”
Recent ICE case spotlighted in Seattle area
Ernesto Gamboa travelled illegally to America seeking a better life and a minor brush with the law would set his sights with local area law enforcement. Gamboa embarked on a 14-year career as a confidential informant as a way to repay his debt to society and earn his eventual legal papers.
Gamboa was a good informant.
According to paperwork he provided, FBI, Sheriff’s Department, DEA and even Seattle police wrote letters of recommendations for Gamboa. Tom Zweiger, who headed some of the drug task forces and is now a retired detective sergeant with the Seattle State Patrol where Gamboa worked, said, “He has taken more drugs off the streets than a lot of drug officers will in their entire careers.”
However, once Gamboa accepted his last case with ICE, his problems began to unravel. “This particular case caused me to work for a new handler, Julie Stephens. Things didn’t go well from the beginning. I work alone the best and it was clear she wanted another informant on this big case,” Gamboa explains.
Sources close to the case say Gamboa’s last job as an informant may be in trouble due to mishandling.
Each day Gamboa went to work his life was on the line. “Working in the intelligence and drug business presents safety issues. ICE knew the risks I was taking, I used my own phone, my own car and really put myself out there. They were supposed to protect me, but in the end they didn’t – they set me up,” Gamboa states.
As with most jobs there are pluses and minuses. Gamboa describes the little victories when drugs and bad guys were taken from the streets and the aspect of working as a team as moments that kept him going.
He also discussed the downside of being frustrated when in the end the country he worked so hard for had issued his arrest warrant while he was still working on his final case. He also describes the sadness that he felt when his marriage ended because the work required chaotic long hours.
A reluctant Gamboa also has advice for anyone seeking to earn legal papers the way he tried. “You really need to open your eyes, make sure you keep accurate records and always be reminded that they (ICE) could burn you just like they did me. It’s a very dangerous business and they lied to me.”
Hopes of becoming an American citizen and continuing his work in law enforcement are all but gone for Gamboa. He did get arrested, ICE lured him to a meeting where he thought he was picking up a paycheck, and he never got paid. After law enforcement agents stepped-up their effort to support Gamboa, Senator Cantwell (D-WA) and his attorney Jorge Baron did their job and were successful in pressuring ICE to release him from prison.
The victory remains bittersweet for Gamboa, as now he is in “legal limbo” and cannot work legally in the country he worked so hard for. “Without the legal papers I’m as good as deported. I can no longer work and the money has run out,” Gamboa explains in a phone call. “It’s just not right, if I go back to El Salvador I could lose my life for what I did, but if I remain here and work illegally I could go back to jail. It’s just not right.”
A phone conversation with Senator Cantwell’s office shed little light on Gamboa’s legal problems. “At least he is not in prison. We pressed the U.S. government to drop the deportation charges. But the underlying problems with the ‘S Visa’ need to be sorted out,” says John Diamond a spokesman for Senator Cantwell.
“The remedy is a private bill and we are considering this, the Senator met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano a week or so ago,” he explained.
The fact remains Gamboa is in a difficult situation and he has recently gone public which exposed his informant status, this according to Diamond puts Gamboa in grave danger.
A case of Congressional power
In New York an Argentinean brother and sister Emilio and Analia Maya were approached by a police officer and given ICE phone numbers to become informants. Since they over stayed their visas, the Argentineans agreed working for the government agency could provide a path to citizenship. Sadly it did not and after the work dried up so did their legal status.
In extraordinary fashion Emilio Maya’s request for a stay of deportation was granted after Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), submitted a rare private bill in the House requesting that Maya, 34, and his 30-year-old sister, Analia, be granted legal status. “After being treated unfairly for so long and being threatened with immediate deportation, the Maya family today received some long-awaited positive news,” Hinchey said in an Associated Press story.
Once the Mayas became part of the ICE informant team they were expected to keep long hours and work in dangerous situations. The brother-sister team did this for more than four years. The duo would wear wires, infiltrate a prostitution ring, and work in a factory that hired illegal immigrants and turned in information regarding human smuggling operations.
Like most informants seeking legal residence in the U.S., they were promised the coveted “S Visa.” Instead of the reward of legal status ICE informed the Mayas they would face deportation because they were no longer useful to ICE.
Pointing out that it is company policy to not discuss ongoing cases ICE spokesman Brian Hale refused to discuss any case involving informants. He did explain that in general, “there has to be a significant benefit to the government,” in order for informants to receive legal papers, something that comes as news to the many foreign nationals who work for ICE.
One way Senators and Congressmen seek a reprieve from ICE’s callous treatment of informants is to create “private bills” to provide relief from immigration laws for compelling informant cases. However the complex rules governing the introduction of such bills makes them extremely difficult to pass.
El Paso ICE office mishandles many informants
ICE informant Gonzalez Galeana was killed on May 15 of 2009; he was shot as he walked up to his home in an upscale neighborhood of El Paso.
Not only was he murdered outside his home, police reported that Galeana was not only a lieutenant with the Juarez cartel, but also an informant for ICE. Investigators say he was targeted because he was leaking cartel information to the U.S. government.
There have been five individuals arrested for the murder and they detailed the motive that led to his demise was his background in the Juarez cartel. Gonzalez was shot multiple times outside his home and among the suspects was an 18-year-old U.S. Army soldier stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas who was hired by one of the leaders of the Juarez cartel.
Another suspect arrested was Ruben Rodriguez Dorado who is also a lieutenant in the Juarez cartel. The details surrounding Dorado further demonstrate ICE lacks the complex wherewithal to juggle multiple confidential informants. Apparently Dorado received orders from his cartel leadership to kill Gonzalez.
The kicker is Rodriguez was able to freely enter America and track down Gonzalez. He even paid Gonzalez’s cell phone bill and was able to look up his home address. It has been reported that Dorado undertook surveillance measures of Gonzalez’ home, planned the killing and hired the underage assassin to murder his target.
Once Dorado’s cover was blown and his life in danger, it certainly would have helped those involved that another ICE informant, Rodriguez, could be involved in the possible murder plot. It’s worth pointing out that Rodriguez was a legal permanent resident of the United States, and his relationship with ICE would allow him to cross the border without much notice.
There have been many reports that examine the reach, scope and complexity of the Mexican drug cartels’ intelligence efforts. The cartels have done a good job recruiting ex-Mexican military personnel to join their ranks. A leading component with recruitment is money, Mexican government jobs are notoriously low-paying positions. The billion-dollar drug industry gives them the ability to garner highly trained soldiers.
It is clear that several of the cartels have demonstrated the ability to operate more like a foreign intelligence service than a traditional criminal organization. This means that it is highly possible that Rodriguez was what is referred to in intelligence terms as a double agent — someone who pretends to spy on an organization but is, in fact, loyal to that organization.
When it comes to informants, the government’s ability to learn about the inner workings of criminal enterprises often relies on people who have first-hand knowledge – or criminals themselves. The first and most obvious issue is that most people, who have access to the inner workings of a criminal organization, and therefore the most valuable intelligence, are themselves criminals. Honorable citizens usually do not have access to the plans of organized crime or understand their hierarchy. Therefore most authorities need to recruit or flip criminals in order to infiltrate the cartels or mafia-type organizations.
In Juarez, cartels like the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) or Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) drug organization in Mexico have recruited scores of intelligence assets and agents at all levels of the Mexican government. It has been reported that BLO even recruited Mexico’s former drug czar to assist the cartels with needed knowledge to move their drugs into the United States.
With the massive amounts of drug money coming into Mexico, cartels can buy foreign expertise and equipment that provide the ability to set counterintelligence and bribe pertinent government officials on both sides of the border.
If there is a lesson to be learned by the U.S., it’s that the drug cartels can reach across the border to take care of business with a lot of stealth. This should prompt ICE and other U.S. law enforcement agencies to work together to slow down the drug trade.
For more stories; http://www.examiner.com/x-10317-San-Diego-County-Political-Buzz-Examiner
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More About: House of Death · Informants
Describing the mishandling of the House of Death case and ICE’s treatment of confidential informants goes something like this – what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico or government agencies gone wild; or law enforcement agencies gone wild.
Not only has the House of Death incident never been fully investigated, but also none of the DEA, ICE and DHS management officials responsible for supervising the case reprimanded. No rule books were written to ensure U.S. law enforcement agencies could ever take part in covering-up a dozen murders that crossed international borders with Mexico.
Once the case was shut down and the ‘stuff’ hit the fan ICE agents found themselves in the middle of a game of ‘Clue.’ Except this was very real – it was Mr. ICE agency, with the rope in the House of Death.
A common fact that many news stories and ICE representatives in Washington D.C. conveniently leave out about this gruesome murder tale is the fact each time informant 913 – Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or ‘Lalo’ was debriefed about his visits south of the border, several ICE agents and supervisors were present in the interrogation room.
In a recent series of articles by NPR a Kumar Kibble, acting director of criminal investigation for ICE said, “we have been successfully recruiting informants year after year, and I think they have a comfort level working with ICE,” he says. “I mean, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to continue to bring the highly successful investigations that we have been bringing.”
But according to the NPR story Kibble wouldn’t talk about Lalo. He had no comment about why the agency wants to send its star informant back to Mexico, where Lalo faces torture and death at the hands of the cartels he sold down the river.
Several attempts were made to contact ICE and Mr. Kibble, but the agency could not find an employee with that name. Nevertheless Lalo’s attorney Jodi Goodwin made it clear that this problem is not isolated and she represents many informants in similar cases. “The fact they tried to blame this on Lalo and his ICE handler Bencomo and not any of the supervisors who made the decision to move forward after each murder is ridiculous.”
In an effort to cover-up their tracks ICE fired Lalo’s handler, Raul Bencomo. Not only was Bencomo a low-level agent, he was never in a position to tell Lalo to participate in murder and stay inside the Juarez drug cartel and collect damning information to bring down a major kingpin and give ICE some much-wanted notoriety. “In the end ICE did me in. They wanted a fall guy and I shouldn’t have been the fall guy. Why weren’t any of my supervisors who directed me through this case I didn’t want to be a part of lose their jobs?” Bencomo said.
The House of Death case did garner ICE notoriety, but it was the kind Washington decided to sweep under the mat and cross their fingers mainstream media would fail to pick up on the cover-up that went all the way to the Bush White House. ICE got lucky and indeed the mainstream media decided to focus on the war in Iraq.
Sandalio Gonzalez, the retired DEA Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of El Paso who blew the whistle on the House of Death says that members of Congress have been, and are being bamboozled by the Executive Branch on this issue. By failing to ask the tough questions relavent to this case makes Congress complicit with the federal law enforcement agencies involved in the House of Death cover up.
The JAT Report remains elusive
Emails posted on FBI Watch in March of 2006/07, quote the cover memorandum to the DEA/ICE Joint Assessment Team (JAT) Report prepared in connection with the House of Death debacle. The memo is directed to John Clark, ICE Director of Investigations, and Michael Ferguson, DEA Chief of Operations, from; (name redacted) Special Agent in Charge Buffalo and Rodney Benson ASAC, DEA Boston Field Division.
The memorandum reads, “This review commenced on February 10, 2004, and ended on February 19, 2004. In connection with this review, the JAT conducted forty-four interviews of DEA, ICE, United States Attorney’s Office and Department of State personnel in El Paso, Texas, and Mexico. In addition, the JAT conducted investigative and confidential source file reviews and reviewed several hundred recorded conversations in connection with the ICE and DEA [redacted] investigations.
This assessment report consists of the JAT timeline of pertinent events, JAT interview summaries and noteworthy reports; all the facts detailed within the JAT timeline were agreed upon by ICE and DEA JAT personnel,” the email read. (Link- FBI Watch 4th post down http://forums.signonsandiego.com/showthread.php?t=59139&page=28)
All parties involved know the JAT report exists yet very few eyes have been privy to the entire report including former DEA SAC Gonzalez. There have been claims that the report may be classified as National Security to shut the door for questions, however, Gonzalez sees it differently. “It’s not National Security issue, it’s a national embarrassment issue.”
A summary of the interview with the then DEA SAC Gonzalez, says the House of Death debacle reads something like this;
“On February 11, 2004, JAT members conducted an interview of Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Sandalio Gonzalez, explained that the interview was in connection with a joint review being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The purpose of the joint review was to ascertain the facts related to the events surrounding the evacuation of the DEA Resident Office in [Ciudad Juarez] Mexico and events and activities related to ICE and DEA investigations targeting [the VCF Juarez cartel and Heriberto Santillan-Tabares]. It was stressed by JAT personnel that this was solely a fact-finding inquiry to which the final report would be provided to the DEA Chief of Operations and ICE Director of Investigations,” the interviewers stated.
At many intra-agency meetings, during his four-year stint in El Paso, “SAC Gonzalez advised they discussed significant cases, operational and administrative matters, pertaining to Operation Sky-high: SAC Gonzalez was aware that it was an ongoing multi-agency operation including DEA, FBI, ICE, USAO (U.S. Attorneys Office) and Mexican Authorities targeting elements of the [Vicente Carrillo Fuentes] VCF [drug] organization in Mexico. According to Gonzalez, this multi-agency operation was initiated by DEA [El Paso].”
“Over the years, there has been some concern from U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies regarding the sharing of information with Mexican Authorities. SAC Gonzalez stated that he stressed that DEA would not share another agency’s information with Mexican Agencies without permission from the agency providing the information. Gonzalez stated that the FBI and ICE did not want certain information passed to the Mexican Authorities. SAC Gonzalez stated that the [Heriberto Santillan-Tabares] investigation was a joint investigation between DEA and ICE and that the FBI had very little involvement with this investigation,” the JAT Report team found.
Gonzalez recalled a March 2003 controlled delivery of “twenty-nine kilograms of cocaine that was received by the ICE [El Paso] CS [confidential informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro ‘Lalo’] from [Santillan]. In addition, SAC Gonzalez commented that DEA [El Paso] provided an undercover agent for the controlled delivery and DEA [El Paso] intelligence analysts participated in the debriefing of the CS shortly after the controlled delivery. According to SAC Gonzalez, Group Supervisor [redacted’s] group had primary oversight of the DEA [case] targeting VCF,” the report concluded.
Once the JAT report was finished and many questions remained unanswered about the misdoings by ICE, DHS and DOJ regarding the House of Death, many news agencies and attorneys began requesting the report through the Freedom Of Information Act or (FOIA). To this day the JAT report remains in a cabinet drawer in Washington D.C. or South America as some have reported.
Bill Weaver, a law professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has written extensively about the murder case, stated that a letter from DEA in December 2006 stated, “that his FOIA request for the JAT is being jammed up because some documents are in South America and due to national security concerns.”
Weaver replied to the letter from DEA and said, “There is nothing in the Joint Assessment Team report or supporting materials that remotely involved ‘South America’ or the ‘Southern United States.’ All of the events investigated by the team occurred in the El Paso/Juarez region. Some interviews were made in Mexico City.”
A letter from DEA headquarters in Washington and the Department of Justice, to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s office is proof that the JAT report does in fact exist. It also shows that Washington was concerned enough about a possible public relations disaster and then they buried the JAT report and settled their case against Santillan in a plea deal which didn’t include any murder charges.
The memorandum read, “This is a partial response to your letter of April 6, 2004, to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Division Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez concerning the captioned [Santillan] case. In that letter you requested any and all impeaching or otherwise exculpatory information relating to two essential witnesses for the Government (namely), Eduardo Ramirez, aka Lalo [the ICE informant] (and) Jose Jaime Marquez [Ramirez’ assistant in the House of Death murders].
More specifically, this memorandum is in response to paragraph 10 of your letter in which you requested ‘(a) copy of the final report, any internal memorandum or other documents prepared by the joint management inquiry team [the DEA/ICE Joint Assessment Team].’ Please note that the enclosed final report also includes a ‘Joint Assessment Team Timeline,’ which is referenced in paragraph “9” of your letter. This report is being provided to you in its entirety because we fully appreciate your office’s need to review all potentially relevant information with regard to the Santillan-Tabares case, and we understand that disclosure of this information outside of the United States Attorney’s office will not be made without further notification to, and consultation with, DEA,” the memo states.
The theory behind JAT Reports is two-fold. First they can hold a governmental agency accountable for mishandling operations, straying from agency policy and getting to the bottom of what happened and when. The second is to designate a new game plan when another similar event unravels and providing the rulebook to play by.
Neither has occurred in this case.
“The reason the Joint Assessment Team (JAT) Report remains so elusive is because the government has something to hide. It’s kind of like the child who breaks a toy and then hides it. The old adage out of sight, out of mind, can’t get in trouble. DHS has been hiding the facts for so long, they don’t know any other way. Unfortunately, DOJ also did this constantly during the Bush Administration. Had there not been anything to hide, they would have gone public long ago, instead of continuing to keep it quiet, hoping that it would all just go away. Remember that Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart testified under oath during Sandy Gonzalez civil suit that ICE was responsible for the House of Death murder spree,” stated Andy Ramirez of the non-profit Law Enforcement Officers Advocates Council.
This case screams for Inspector General oversight
Currently there are approximately 69 federal Offices of Inspectors Generals (OIG), who are supposed to look out for the taxpayers and for the most part they try to sell the public on their anonymity. The IGs employ criminal investigators and auditors.
One of the goals many Inspector Generals are responsible for is uncovering misconduct activities by federal agencies including the detection and prevention of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of the government programs and operations within their parent organizations. IG investigations may be internal and can target government employees; or external when it comes to targeting grant recipients, contractors, or recipients of the various loans and subsidies offered through the thousands of federal domestic and foreign assistance programs.
The mission statement of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) states “was statutorily established as an independent entity within the executive branch by the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 to address integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies; and increase the professionalism and effectiveness of personnel by developing policies, standards, and approaches to aid in the establishment of a well-trained and highly skilled workforce in the offices of the Inspectors General.”
Once the House of Death was discovered, Clark Ervin, the DHS Inspector General, began to write a series of reports on security programs used by DHS that were failures and run by “inept” government officials. “There isn’t a concern about the importance of spending every single dollar to the maximum effect of the core mission of the department,” Ervin told ABC News in 2004.
The White House only appointed Ervin for one term. He was appointed to oversee issues within the Department of Homeland Security. ABC reported he wanted to stay on, but was informed that he would be replaced. “I think this was a voice that was a little too critical and made the administration a little too uncomfortable,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog group.
Former DEA SAC Gonzalez reported the House of Death murders to the two most appropriate government watchdog agencies. As a Department of Justice employee he wrote to the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General to request appropriate action, and as a government whistleblower he wrote to the Office of Special Counsel seeking protection from retaliation. In addition, after he retired Mr. Gonzalez personally briefed senior staff members of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D- VT) about the House of Death murders and the subsequent cover up. All parties he tried to inform ignored him.
In a letter from Office of Special Counsel to DEA agent Gonzalez dated July 2, 2004 the OSC office appears to take a blasé tone regarding the SAC of El Paso’s concern regarding mismanagement -resulting in 12 murders. The letter reads in part; “This will acknowledge receipt of the above-referenced disclosure matter… Please bear in mind that each year OSC receives a large number of matters concerning disclosures of information of a violation of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
We attempt to handle all the cases as expeditiously as is possible. Cases are generally processed in the order in which they are received,” The OSC office said in the letter. Wow, murder doesn’t appear to garner much attention from the Washington D.C. It’s worth pointing out that there has yet been a report taken by DHS, DOJ or ICE that has been made public detailing the atrocities that occurred at the House of Death.
For now Lalo’s family in the U.S. remains hopeful the government will pull through and honor their promises to give Lalo his U.S. paperwork so he can get on with his life. “I just came from a visit with my son in New York,” says Lalo’s father. “They only allowed me one hour a day and I had to talk into a phone through thick glass. This isn’t right my son isn’t a wanted criminal in any country. Why are they treating him like this – solitary confinement and no TV or computers, it’s just no way to live.”
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