ICE, U.S. prosecutors turned blind eye to Juarez death houses
Informant claims his U.S. handlers ignored carnage because it occurred “on Mexican soil”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in El Paso, Texas, were made aware of multiple torture and death houses used by narco-trafficking cells in Juarez but failed to follow-up on the information or report it to the Mexican government, according to an informant who was employed by the federal law enforcement agency between 2000 and 2004. “[ICE] was aware these people [in the Juarez drug organization] were ruthless and powerful,” the informant told Narco News during a recent telephone interview. “If they say kill someone, you do it, or you get killed. I explained that to Customs [ICE], that those are the conditions I would have to work under, and they [the informant’s ICE handlers] said ‘Yes,’ and I began to infiltrate the cartel.” The informant said many of the people who were murdered at these death houses were operating in Juarez without the permission of the dominate Vicente Carrillo Fuentes drug organization (VCF).
“Nobody was allowed to work cocaine in the city, and if they did, they would be killed,” he said. “We [ICE through the informant] had infiltrated the most powerful criminal organization in the country [Mexico] and they kill people as part of their work. There’s n o way to avoid it .” And ICE and the U.S. prosecutors in El Paso and San Antonio, Texas, working the investigation that utilized the informant understood that reality, according to the informant. The informant told Narco News that there were a “number of death houses” in Juarez that he became familiar with as part of his work for ICE. “ICE knew about these houses where they were torturing and killing people,” the informant said. “I would report on these houses in debriefings [with ICE] but they never asked me where the houses were. I had the addresses, but ICE never asked me for the addresses.”
The informant said U.S. law enforcers and prosecutors didn’t seem to care about the murders since they were happening “on Mexican soil.” The revelation that ICE and U.S. prosecutors were made aware that there were multiple death houses in operation while the informant was working for them is important because the informant has since been accused of helping to facilitate some of the murders — with the U.S. government’s knowledge.
Trail of Blood
The informant, a former Mexican cop named Guillermo E. Ramirez Peyro (also known as “Lalo”), admits to participating in at least one murder carried out at a death house at 3633 Parsioneros in Juarez. He also admitted in the interview with Narco News that he was present at the house when two additional victims were tortured and murdered. A gravedigger who worked with Lalo (the bodies were buried in the backyard of the house) claims the informant was actually present for at least five of the murders at the Parsioneros House of Death.
Overall, between August 2003 and mid-January 2004, a total of a dozen people were tortured, murdered and dumped in shallow graves in the backyard of the Parsioneros home, with Lalo serving as the gatekeeper for the murder chamber while working covertly for ICE (paid more than $200,000 overall by the U.S. government) and under the direction of Heriberto Santillan Tabares — a cell leader for the VCF drug organization.
After participating in the first murder and making his ICE handlers aware of that fact, Lalo was authorized through high-level approvals from ICE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue his mission — resulting in at least 11 more murders and the near assassination of a DEA agent assigned to Juarez (who was mistakenly identified as a corrupt Customs inspector by one of Santillan’s torture victims).Lalo told Narco News that while working for ICE, his phone was wired and he also carried a digital tape recorder provided to him by his handlers — and he occasionally wore a body wire during his assignment. As a result, Lalo said his ICE handlers, and the prosecutors they worked with, were fully aware that people were being murdered at the House of Death on Parsioneros, sometimes in advance of those murders.“I would get a call to come [from El Paso or to contact someone else] to open up the house [in Juarez] for a carne asada [codeword for a torture/murder session],” Lalo said. “And I know at least five or six times those calls were being monitored by ICE.”Lalo said he was not required to be present at every murder carried out at the Parsioneros house, but he was required to “check on” the activities and “to take charge if there was a problem.” In addition, Lalo said some bodies were delivered to the Parsioneros house for burial as a result of murders that took place elsewhere.
Lalo said his boss, Santillan, was part of a cell that reported to a “control group,” which oversaw numerous other cells that also operated death houses. “So there were many houses,” Lalo said. “At some point, they would leave those houses and move to other houses [to carry out the torture and murders, often disposing of the bodies at the houses]. So there are a lot more of them [than just the Parsioneros house].” Lalos said Santillan was under the direction of the “control group,” so “he was involved with some of the other houses.” Lalo stressed that he made his ICE handlers aware of the extent of this death machine, but they chose not to act on the information or to inform the Mexican government — though DOJ and ICE officials at the highest levels sanctioned the continuation of Lalo’s activities even after they were made aware of his participation in murder at the Parsioneros House of Death. This all played out despite the fact that the U.S. Attorney overseeing the case at the time, Johnny Sutton in San Antonio, had enough evidence to close out the investigation against Santillan several months prior to the first House of Death murder.
“Why ICE [and Sutton] did not shut down the operation, I cannot say,” Lalo told Narco News. “They gave me the order to continue.” Lalo points out, however, that at the same time he was working as an informant on the Santillan case, he also was working for ICE as an informant in a separate cigarette-smuggling case. Pulling the plug on either investigation too soon would have likely blown Lalo’s cover since he would probably have been required to testify in court. That, in turn, would have jeopardized any ongoing investigation. When a lone DEA commander, Sandalio Gonzalez, in El Paso sought to expose the U.S. government’s complicity in the needless carnage, via a memo drafted in February 2004, rather than investigate the charges, U.S. Attorney Sutton chose instead to use his pull within DOJ to retaliate against the whistleblower and assure his message was silenced.
As it turned out, likely due to Gonzalez’s memo exposing the U.S. government’s role in the Parsioneros House of Death murders, Lalo was never called to testify in either the Santillan or cigarette-smuggling case — because Sutton cut plea deals in each, assuring that ICE and his office’s role in the Juarez carnage were never exposed to the light of day through public court proceedings.
Return to Sender
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, is now seeking to deport Lalo, who claims that, once returned to Mexico, the narco-traffickers he betrayed will murder him — with the help of Mexican government officials and law enforcers who are employed by those same narco-traffickers. In fact, even a DOJ attorney, in recent pleadings in Lalo’s deportation case, agreed that he will likely be murdered if returned to Mexico, yet DOJ continues to argue for his deportation.
Lalo’s case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He is now being held in solitary confinement in a county jail in Minnesota, where, he claims, he spends 21 hours a day in an eight-by-eight-foot cell and passes the time reading the Bible, mysteries or peering through his cell door to catch a glimpse of a TV in a nearby room.
Other than being granted an occasional phone call, “I can’t speak to anyone,” Lalo told Narco News. He added that he is willing to “have a face-to-face” interview with anyone in the media to discuss his case, “but the government will not approve it.”
Lalo was only able to speak with Narco News after his attorney forwarded contact information to him, along with a few bucks from this correspondent to pay for his prepaid phone card.
“They say it’s for my safety [being held in solitary confinement], yet they are trying to send me back to Mexico [to be killed],” Lalo said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Lalo explained that the leadership of the Juarez drug organization, along with the top leadership from the other major narco-trafficking groups in Mexico, “has good relations with the Mexican government.”
“I’ll even give [Mexican President] Calderon the benefit of the doubt in his war against narco-traffickers, but the problem is, to do it effectively, he would have to bring in people from another planet,” Lalo said, in offering his take on Calderon’s current military assault on drug traffickers. “That’s because many of his commanders, in the military and police, along with politicians, are already corrupted. … The Juarez cartel, military and law enforcement are all the same people.” That reality, Lalo said, is why he is doomed if deported to Mexico, since he would in all likelihood be picked up by Mexican police “and it is Mexican law enforcement that does the killing for the cartels.” Lalo explained that the leadership of the Juarez drug organization, along with that of other major drug organizations, such as the Sinaloa and Gulf “cartels,” work with each other and with the government “all the way up to the president’s office.”Under this top leadership, Lalo claimed, exists what he termed the “control groups” that oversee operations for the various drug organizations in major markets under the direction of the top leaders — such as Vicente Carrillo Fuentes or Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman-Loera and others at the apex of the narco-trafficking business in Mexico. These control groups also are headed by bosses — an individual known only as “No. 1” in Juarez, for example, Lalo explained.
Under the control groups are a host of “cells,” such as the group that was headed by Santillan.
“The members of these cells don’t know who the other cells are,” Lalo said. “The cell leadership just reports to the control group in the city. So it is the control groups who give the orders.” In addition, according to Lalo, these cells don’t work exclusively with one narco-trafficking organization. They may do a job for the Juarez organization one time and the Sinaloa organization another time, he said.“So it’s not exclusive,” Lalo added. “It all depends on who their customers are. A cell does not belong to one [narco-trafficking organization]. The only exclusive [relationship] is between the control group [and the top drug-organization leadership].”The ramp-up in violence in Juarez over the past few years (more than 1,600 murders in 2008 alone), even with the presence of the Mexican military, Lalo said, makes perfect sense if you consider the true dynamics of how the business works in Mexico.
“The [leadership] of the Juarez cartel is not worried about the military,” he said. “They are tipped off when something is taking place and simply lay low. What they [the military] is doing is combating the competition of the cartel.” That competition, according to Lalo, is coming from the ranks of the poor in Mexico, who, as they have become increasingly desperate in an ailing free-trade economy, see the narco-trafficking business as an opportunity to overcome their plight, despite the grave risk.“Regardless of the danger, they are willing to take a chance of having five good years of life rather than a whole life of poorness,” Lalo said. “What has increased in the last few years is the competition as a result.“… There is this permanent war against narco-trafficking, and the U.S. is spending a lot of money to combat it, but nothing is changing. Things are the same as they were 20 years ago, only more ruthless now.”