DHS, DOJ brass turned a blind eye to House of Death murder, federal prosecutor confirms
Online Journal Contributing
Oct 11, 2006, 01:09
High-level officials within the departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland
Security (DHS) did know about the activities of a U.S. government informant who
supervised and participated in murder in Ju�rez, Mexico, and yet they allowed
that informant to continue his bloody assignment in what is now known as the House of Death case.
A sworn legal
affidavit recently obtained by Narco News that was prepared by the U.S.
prosecutor (Juanita Fielden) who oversaw the House of Death case confirms that
is included as an exhibit in a civil rights case filed against U.S. law
enforcement officials by the families of the victims in the House of Death mass
murder. That case is currently pending in U.S. District Court in El Paso,
Between August 2003 and mid-January of 2004, a dozen people
were kidnapped, tortured and butchered at the House of Death located at Calle
Parsioneros 3633 in Ju�rez. Those murders were carried out with the help of the
U.S. government informant, who had penetrated a Ju�rez cell of the Vicente
Carrillo Fuentes� (VCF) narco-trafficking organization.
During the course of those murders, the informant, Guillermo
Ramirez Peyro, a former Mexican cop, was under the supervision of federal
agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Fielden was the
Assistant U.S. Attorney in El Paso assigned to oversee the case.
informant�s role came to light publicly, after his activities nearly cost the
lives of a DEA agent and his family, rather than investigate the callous
actions of U.S. law enforcers who allowed the informant to commit murder under
government cover, the fearless leadership at DOJ as well as DHS, which oversees
ICE, chose to bury the facts along with the bodies. At least that is the story
line conveyed by numerous law enforcement sources who have spoken with Narco
News during the course of our coverage of this case.
In fact, prior
Narco News reports have shown that Fielden�s boss, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton,
a well-wired guy within the Bush administration, conspired with the
head of the DEA, Karen Tandy, to keep the informant�s role in the murders out
of the press and to assure that a high-ranking DEA agent, Sandalio Gonzalez,
was thwarted in his efforts to expose the U.S. government�s complicity in the
murders. Gonzalez became yet another victim of the House of Death -- his career
ruined in the aftermath of a calculated effort to silence the messenger.
Up until now, the documents uncovered by Narco News in the
House of Death mass murder demonstrate that high-level U.S. government
officials, such as Sutton, Tandy and even the U.S. Attorney General, were at
least aware of the informant�s role in the murders after a dozen bodies were
dug up in the back yard of the home in Juarez in early 2004.
However, Fielden�s affidavit is the first evidence to
surface that proves DHS and DOJ officials were aware of the murderous
activities at the House of Death at least after the first murder committed there
in August 2003 -- yet still chose to continue using the informant in order to
make a drug case against the VCF cell leader Heriberto Santillan Tabares.
The First Murder
Before diving into the particulars of Fielden�s affidavit,
some history on the first House of Death murder has to be revisited.
In prior Narco News reports, kind readers, you were made
aware of an internal ICE memo, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act
request, that detailed informant Ramirez Peyro�s role in that first murder at
the House of Death. The Aug. 25, 2003, ICE memo, which Fielden�s affidavit
makes clear was sent up the chain of command at ICE and DOJ, states clearly
that the informant �supervised� and participated in the Aug. 5, 2003, murder of
Mexican lawyer Fernando Reyes at the House of Death.
The following is from the ICE memo, parts of
which were redacted by FOIA censors -- though Narco News� law enforcement
sources have filled in some of the blanks:
Date: [Aug. 25, 2003]
From: Special Agent [REDACTED]
The participants in the murder were [REDACTED] and [two
Ju�rez Judicial Police officers]. [Ramirez Peyro, the informant] supervised the
murder and had minimal participation in the act. . . .
[Ramirez Peyro] told [Santillan] that he would take his
own vehicle because he was going to buy some lime and duct tape, and that he
would meet the two Police officers at the residence [the House of Death in
Readers, ask yourself, why would Ramirez Peyro buy lime and
duct tape unless he anticipated a murder was about to happen? And why were ICE
officials handling this informant not made aware of this fact by the informant
-- assuming, as those officials now claim, they were not aware? Still, based on
the opening lines of the memo, there can be no doubt that ICE officials were
aware the informant did far more than simply witness a murder.
More from the ICE memo:
. . . As [Reyes]
is sitting on the chair [in the living room], [REDACTED] pulls out his weapon
and places it up against the right side of [Reyes�] face.
[Reyes] sees the weapon and begins to scream, �Why,
please don�t kill me, don�t kill me.�
The first Police officer came out from behind [REDACTED]
and ran to [REDACTED]. The Police officer, already with the tape in his hand
began to unwind it and forced a portion of the tape into [Reyes�] mouth. The
Police officer began to wrap the tape around [Reyes�] head, and [Reyes]
responded by trying to fight his way out.
The second Police officer appeared and began to assist
[REDACTED] and the other Police officer. The first Police officer continued to
wrap the tape around [Reyes�] head in an attempt to smother him with it.
[Reyes] continued to fight, at which time the two Police officers and
[REDACTED] push [Reyes] to the ground and began to tape his hands.
[Reyes] begins to kick his legs at which time [REDACTED]
looked at [Ramirez Peyro]. The look made [Ramirez Peyro] feel uncomfortable.
Based on the look, [Ramirez Peyro] felt forced to assist in the restraining of
[Reyes] by the legs.
The Police officers began to tape his feet together.
One of the Police officers then grabbed an extension cord
and wrapped it around [Reyes�] neck.
The Police officer then began to violently pull on the
cord in an attempt to choke out [Reyes].
During this time, the cord broke and part of the cord
remained around [Reyes�] neck at which time one of the Police officer asked,
[REDACTED] then pointed to a plastic bag.
One of the police officers grabbed the plastic bag and
placed it over [Reyes�] head.
[REDACTED] then began to wrap the duct tape around the
bag, therefore, suffocating �Fernando� [Reyes].
They all stood around and watched [Reyes�] body as his
movement became less and less.
One of the police officers then went and grabbed a shovel
and began to strike [Reyes] in the back of the neck area.
[Ramirez Peyro] stated that he believed the violent
striking of the neck caused it to break.
. . . [Santillan]
praised [Ramirez Peyro] for his participation in the murder and that his
participation could lead to his meeting with [Vicente Carrillo Fuentes].
Fielden's affidavit starts out by providing details about
how DOJ and ICE officials responded to the news that the informant Ramirez
Peyro had been caught smuggling drugs about a month prior to the Aug. 5, 2003,
murder at the House of Death.
At this time (in June 2003), DEA also was using Ramirez
Peyro as an informant. In the wake of the drug bust, though, DEA decided to end its relationship
with Ramirez Peyro.
However, it seems ICE officials, and Fielden, felt a greater
sense of loyalty to Ramirez Peyro, despite his act of betrayal. That loyalty
stemmed, it seems, from the desire to protect career-enhancing cases that
involved the use of the informant.
On the evening of June 28, 2003, I was contacted by ICE
group supervisor (GS) Todd Johnson who advised me that a confidential informant
(SA913-EP [Ramirez Peyro], hereinafter referred to as the CI) had been stopped
at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Las Cruces, New Mexico in possession of
approximately 100 pounds of marijuana which was concealed in his vehicle. This
was unauthorized criminal activity on the part of the CI. The CI was arrested
by Las Cruces, New Mexico, DEA Special Agent Mike Garcia and the case was
referred to the State prosecutor.
The next week a meeting was held at the United States
Attorney�s Office regarding the ramification of the CI�s arrest. Attending this
meeting were members of ICE management (ASAC Fred Schroeder, GS Todd Johnson
and GS Curtis Compton) and AUSAs [Assistant U.S. Attorneys] Margaret Leachman,
Jose Luis Gonzales and me. After a lengthy discussion, the consensus was that
if the CI was closely monitored he could continue to be effective and provide
significant information on both the El Paso investigations [which includes the
Santillan investigation in Juarez], as well as a Chicago investigation.
The ICE agents indicated that, pursuant to ICE policy,
they would attempt to get the approval of the Special Agent in Charge (at the
time it was an Acting SAC) to continue to use the CI. If the agents obtained
approval to continue to utilize the CI, I would call the State prosecutor in
New Mexico and ask that they suspend prosecution based upon the CI�s continued
cooperation. GS Todd Johnson called me later and said that he had obtained the
Acting SAC�s approval to continue to use the CI. I then called the State
prosecutor who agreed to defer prosecution as long as the CI cooperated. The
State charge was eventually dropped in December 2003, at my request.
So, Fielden admits that the informant not only broke the law
but deceived his ICE handlers more than a month prior to the first murder at
the House of Death, yet the decision was still made, through the ICE and DOJ
chain of command, to continue using Ramirez Peyro in order to make a drug case
against the VCF organization. Had the informant been deactivated by ICE in June
and prosecuted for his crime, a dozen people might still be alive today.
And even though DOJ and ICE officials had knowledge of the
informant�s active role in at least the first murder in August 2003, Fielden
still chose to drop the drug-smuggling charges against Ramirez Peyro some four
months later, in December 2003. It is not clear if Fielden ever informed the
state prosecutor in New Mexico that Ramirez Peyro had been involved in a murder
prior to requesting that the charges be dismissed.
Another puzzling revelation is the notion that ICE officials
continued to use the informant in the House of Death investigation in Mexico
after his drug bust. How could ICE possibly �closely� monitor the informant�s
activities while he was operating inside a VCF cell in Mexico? In any event, as
evidenced by the fact that the first murder at the House of Death occurred
about a month after the drug bust, it is clear that ICE, in fact, did not have
control of the situation.
More from Fielden�s affidavit:
On July 25, 2003, United States District Judge Phillip
Martinez for the Western District of Texas signed an order authorizing an
anticipatory interception of a cellular telephone (915-892-8888) which was to
be given to Santillan-Tabares by the CI. The court was notified of the CI�s
arrest [on the drug charges] at that time.
On or about August 5, 2003, I was contacted at home by
ICE GS Curtis Compton and advised of a murder that had taken place in Ju�rez,
Chihuahua, Mexico in which Santillan-Tabares was involved. The incident had
been recorded by the CI.
I, in turn, contacted my supervisor, Assistant United
States Attorney Margaret Leachman. She later told me that she had advised
Richard Durbin, Chief of the Criminal Division for the Western District of
Texas, of the incident. The next morning I spoke with my OCDETF [Organized
Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Office] advisor, Greg Surovic and told him of
the incident. It was some time later that I learned that the individual
murdered was identified as Ferando Reyes.
Interestingly, Fielden�s boss in San Antonio, U.S. Attorney
Sutton, is never mentioned in her affidavit. However, Sandalio Gonzalez, who
served as the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA field office in El Paso at the
time of the House of Death murders, told Narco News that Sutton clearly would
have been in the chain of communication on all these matters.
�Of course Sutton was in the loop,� Gonzalez says. �If the
OCDETF attorney [Surovic] was in the loop, so was Sutton.�
It also is worth pointing out here some information supplied
to Narco News by DHS sources concerning the informant�s communication
activities at the time of the first murder at the House of Death. The DHS
sources claim that the murder was not only �recorded,� as Fielden points out,
but also monitored in real time as it was happening.
The informant was carrying a transmitting device, imbedded
in his cell phone, that allowed audio to be beamed back to ICE�s wire unit in
El Paso, the sources contend. So, the first murder at the House of Death was
not only recorded by that wire unit, but also monitored as it was happening.
Assuming the DHS sources are on the money, then the judge
who authorized that wiretap should have been made aware of this monitoring of
the first murder as a condition of his continuing authorization of the wiretap,
or ICE officials were in violation of the federal law governing wiretaps.
One DHS source also claims that the wire unit in ICE�s El
Paso office, at the time of the first murder, was staffed by contract employees
-- at least one of whom might have been deep-sixed in the wake of the first
House of Death murder.
�It is my belief that one of those contract monitors
listened to the whole thing [the murder], and a couple of those contractors [in
the wire unit] were, in fact, gone within in a couple of weeks [of the
murder],� the DHS source claims.
ICE officials have denied that the murder was monitored in
real time by anyone at ICE and claim the informant simply tape-recorded the
murder without their knowledge. However, that claim seems highly suspect, given
the realities of the narco-trafficking world. Why would the informant take such
a risk at all, if ICE agents had not asked him to record the events?
Narco News has filed a request under the Freedom of
Information Act seeking the release of the �tape� of the first House of Death
murder. If that tape is ever made public, it should offer some clues as to
precisely how ICE officials �monitored� the first murder and whether they have
been totally forthcoming in their reports to date about their knowledge of the
details of that murder.
More from Fielden�s affidavit:
On or about August 25, 2003, I was provided an ICE memo
prepared by SA Luis Garcia which detailed an August 6, 2003 interview of the CI
wherein he discussed the events surrounding the murder of Fernando Reyes on
August 5, 2003. The CI stated he feared for his life during this event.
It was my understanding that from August 6, 2003 until
August 21, 2003, Santillan-Tabares was in the interior of Mexico. I am aware
that the El Paso ICE agents notified ICE management in Washington, D.C. and
Mexico City, Mexico of the murder which occurred on August 5, 2005 and that ICE
management in El Paso and in Washington, D.C. approved the continued use of the
CI and the continued investigation of Santillan-Taberes.
On September 4, 2003 United States District Judge Phillip
Martinez, Western District of Texas signed an order authorizing the continued
interception of a cellular telephone (915-892-8888). The affidavit for the
continued wire interception discussed the murder of Fernando Reyes on August 5,
2003. This affidavit was prepared by ICE Special Agent David Ortiz, reviewed
and approved by his chain-of-command, reviewed by me and the Office of
Enforcement Operations Attorney Nancy Brinkac and her supervisor and approved
by Deputy Assistant Attorney General, John G. Malcolm.
Again, Fielden�s affidavit omits an important fact. She
claims officials in Mexico City were made aware of the first murder. What she
fails to point out is that the Mexican government was only told that the
informant was a �witness� to a murder in Juarez. There was no mention of the
fact that he �supervised� and had �limited participation� in that murder, as
the Aug. 25, 2003, ICE memo clearly states.
�We wish to hereby inform you that an informant from the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security traveled to the State of Chihuahua, Mexico
on August 3, 2003 to meet with members of the contraband organization of
Vicente Carillo Fuentes to discuss the transport of a cargo of marijuana,�
states an Aug. 15, 2003, letter directed to the Mexican Office of the Attorney
General and signed by DHS Customs Attach� Luis Alvarez. �On August 5 of this
year, the informant was a witness to the assassination of the owner of the drugs.�
This spinning of the facts prompts former DEA agent Gonzalez
to wonder what ICE officials relayed to the federal judge in the affidavit
seeking authorization for the continuing wiretap for the informant�s phone.
�What did they tell the judge?� Gonzalez asks. �Did they
inform the judge [about the informant�s role in the first murder] in the same
way they told the Mexican government?�
Fielden�s affidavit continues:
In late September 2003, the investigation revealed that
Santillan-Tabares had again traveled to the interior of Mexico where he
remained for several weeks, returning to Juarez, Mexico sometime in
mid-November 2003. During this time, I began preparing a grand jury indictment
of Santillan-Tabares and five other defendants for the March 2003 cocaine
transaction [which occurred in the United States four months prior to the first
House of Death murder].
On December 10, 2003 a Federal grand jury returned the
indictment. Pursuant to Department of Justice policy, in order to lure an
individual from Mexico into the United States to arrest him, authorization must
be obtained from the Department of Justice (DOJ) � Office of International
Affairs (OIA), after the agency has obtained approval from the ranking U.S.
official in Mexico. I finally obtained DOJ OIA authorization on January 15,
On January 14, 2004, I was called at home by ICE GS
Compton who requested that I come to the ICE office because of an incident that
had occurred in Juarez, Mexico that day.
Readers, that incident involved a DEA agent and his family
in Juarez being confronted
by Santillan�s men during a traffic stop. If it were not for the quick
thinking of the DEA agent, he and his family, including two children, would
have almost certainly been taken to the House of Death.
More from Fielden's affidavit:
I notified AUSA Leachman and then went to the ICE office
where I met with ICE agents, their ASAC Patty Kramer, the Juarez DEA agents and
an El Paso DEA Crisis Management Team [assembled to deal with the DEA agent�s
encounter with Santillan�s men]. I then sat in on a meeting with these
individuals and the CI. This is the first time I had met or spoken to the CI
[Ramirez Peyro]. After this meeting I learned general details of some of the
murders and burials [at the House of Death].
On January 15, 2004, after obtaining DOJ OIA approval,
Heriberto Santillan-Tabares was arrested in the United States on the December
Another omission of fact on the part of Fielden is
noteworthy here as well. The original indictment issued in December 2003 did
not include any charges of murder against those indicted, even though Fielden
was aware of at least the first murder at that point. A superseding
indictment was issued in February 2004, after the DEA agent and his family
were nearly killed, that did include five counts of murder.
Why didn�t the original indictment include at least one
murder charge? Could it be that Fielden and her boss, Sutton, were, in fact,
aware of additional murders at the House of Death at the time of the December
2003 indictment? Might Fielden, and her DOJ bosses, hoped to have concealed
that information by not making it part of the original indictment, but were
then later forced to confront the ugly truth through the superseding indictment
after the House of Death murders were exposed in the wake of the near-execution
of the DEA agent and his family? In any event, the murder charges were later
dropped after Sutton cut a plea deal with Santillan�s attorney.
Anyone who grew up watching the TV show Hogan�s Heroes has
to remember the line thrown out by the German soldier Sgt. Shultz whenever he
was confronted with an uncomfortable fact: �I know nothing!�
Well, it seems Fielden watched that show as well. She also
proves to be very adept at passing the buck. If you take her at her word,
everyone above and below her in the chain of command was responsible for
authorizing the actions that led to the House of Death mass murder, but she
alone seemingly has no responsibility for the blood that was spilled.
From her affidavit:
On January 28 and 29, 2004 I interviewed the CI. This was
the first time I became aware of any further involvement in any murders by the
CI other than the August 5, 2003 murder.
With respect to the rules or policies concerning the use
of confidential informants, I reviewed the Attorney General�s 2002 Confidential
Informant Guidelines, specifically, Section IV (B) � Notification of
Unauthorized Illegal Activity. However, the final decision to continue to
operate this particular informant, after his arrest in June 2003 [for dope
smuggling], was made by ICE Acting SAC, pursuant to their department
guidelines. As noted previously, the ICE El Paso SAC, as well as ICE management
in Washington, D.C., also authorized agents to proceed with the investigation
after the August 5, 2003 [House of Death] murder.
At no time prior to January 14, 2004 did I have access to
the informant. At no time during this or any other investigation, did I
directly or indirectly supervise the informant. In fact, I stated previously,
[the] first time I met the informant was on January 14, 2004.
ICE managers supervised the investigation. I, as the
OCDETF prosecutor, was consulted on various aspects of the investigation,
supported the investigation by obtaining authorization for the wire
interceptions, discussed options for prosecution, obtained the indictment and
the DOJ portion of the lure approval.
At all times, I acted in my professional capacity and in
accordance with Department of Justice guidelines. I consulted with my superiors
and sought their advice whenever I was made aware of any problems with the
Here again, DHS sources provide some interesting insight
into the personality of Fielden. They claim Fielden is very much a
micro-manager, that she regularly gets actively involved in investigations and
also makes frequent trips to the ICE field office in El Paso. The DHS sources
also claim Fielden has a very close relationship with Group Supervisor Curtis
Compton -- who was one of the ICE agents charged with overseeing the House of
Death investigation and the activities of the informant Ramirez Peyro.
The relationship between Compton and Fielden is so tight
that, according to these DHS sources, it even extends to working together on
office house-cleaning projects. One of those clean-up projects was observed in
early 2004, shortly after news of the House of Death first broke in the media,
a DHS source claims.
That source recounts the details of the incident:
It was about 11:00 p.m.
at night, and this car came screeching to a stop in the parking lot outside the
Mesa Street building [ICE�s El Paso office]. The car was parked in the middle
of the parking lot, and Curtis Compton, Juanita Fielden and [ICE Associate
Special Agent in Charge] Patty Kramer jumped out. They had a dolly and started
carting in boxes to the first floor of the building [which is where the
document shredders are located]. And then a little later you could hear the
shredder running. They were there for about an hour to an hour and a half.
Another DHS source recounts yet another document cleansing
exercise carried out by ASAC Kramer in April 2004.
�At about 2 p.m.
[that day], Kramer was observed shredding about three boxes of documents in our
giant commercial-grade shredder at the Mesa building,� the source contends.
Those two incidents could be a sign of dedicated public
servants working hard to control the growing mound of red tape in the
government bureaucracy, or they might be an indication that Fielden knows far
more about the House of Death murders than she conveys in her affidavit.
You, the readers, will have to weigh all these facts and
assertions. But keep in mind that the ultimate truth of the House of Death is
still likely, at this point, to remain shrouded in a cover-up. Neither Fielden,
nor any other U.S. government officials, will ever be subjected to cross
examination under oath unless the pending civil case filed by the family
members of the House of Death victims proceeds to trial.
On legal grounds, under the rules of civil court
proceedings, Fielden�s affidavit, and similar pleadings filed by other ICE
officials, may well be all the judge needs to conclude that the case should be
dismissed, since all of those ICE officials contend that they had no
foreknowledge or responsibility for the House of Death murders. They were just
doing their jobs, if you believe their pleadings in the case.
And even if the litigation were to proceed toward trial, it
is almost certain that the U.S. government would settle the case with the
family members long before any ICE or DOJ officials were forced to take the
stand under oath.
The only way the truth will ever come out in this case is if
an Executive Branch agency, such as the FBI, decides to pursue a criminal
investigation. But then the FBI is part of DOJ, and given how high this cover-up
appears to go -- right up to the U.S.
Attorney General -- how likely do you think it is that such an
investigation will ever be authorized?
The U.S. Congress could, of course, initiate its own
hearings and investigations, but to date they have shown no interest
in doing so. And given that the Congress is controlled by Republicans (whose
party would suffer most in the political fall-out from unraveling the truth of
the House of Death mass murder) it can be expected that the congressional lack
of initiative on this matter is likely to continue.
But we must be honest with ourselves. If this scandal had occurred
on the watch of a Democrat-controlled Congress and White House, would the
outcome be any different?
That is the truth of our �democracy� as it stands in this
day in age. The only remaining hope, at least for the victims in the House of
Death, for justice, is that the people of this land find the will to look
behind the curtain of this cover-up and pull down the pants of the wizards
yanking the levers.
Conroy, an investigative reporter and correspondent for Narco News, can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org..
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