FOIA lawsuit seeks to force DEA, DOJ to come clean on House of Death

The bureaucrats at the Department of Justice know something about the House of Death mass murder case that they don't want the public to discover.

And it appears they are even willing to defy federal law in order to assure that information never sees the light of day.

At least that is the concern Bill Weaver, senior advisor for the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), raises in a lawsuit he filed recently against DEA and its parent agency, DOJ.

The litigation, which Weaver says is “part of an effort by the NSWBC” to expose the truth in the House of Death, was filed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It alleges that Washington bureaucrats are stonewalling the release of public records that promise to further illuminate the government’s role in facilitating the House of Death bloodshed.
Among the documents Weaver is seeking from the government (that the DOJ and DEA have so far refused to release) are an internal report involving more than 40 interviews conducted jointly by a team of DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators as well as a tape recording made of the first murder at the House of Death.

The murder toll at the house in Ciudad Juarez reached at least a dozen over a five-month period ending in mid-January 2004. A U.S. government informant who had penetrated a Juarez cell of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes narco-trafficking organization, arranged, and in some cases participated in, the torture and murder sessions while he was under the supervision of ICE agents and a U.S. prosecutor in El Paso, Texas.

DOJ attorneys currently have deportation proceedings pending against that informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, which if successful, would return him to Mexico and into the hands of the narco-traffickers he betrayed — setting up the informant to become yet another murder victim of the House of Death.

Weaver, in conjunction with Narco News, filed the initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with DEA in October 2005 seeking the release of public-record material related to the House of Death case. However, to date, Weaver claims in the lawsuit that the agency has “wrongfully withheld the requested records.”

The legal pleadings, filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso, offer a detailed, documented account of the government’s complicity in the House of Death murders. In addition, the FOIA lawsuit spells out in detail what the government is withholding from the public — as part of what appears to be a cover-up orchestrated at high levels within the federal law enforcement bureaucracy.

From the lawsuit

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Executive Branch of the United States Government, at various periods between 2001 and 2004 utilized an informant named Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro (Ramirez), A/K/A “Lalo,” and “Jesus Contreras,” informant number SA913-EP.

Ramirez passed information to ICE agents concerning activity of the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel (Juarez Cartel) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ramirez’s identity as a confidential source has been made public in both print and television and his identity as the confidential source involved in the events described herein has been confirmed by the United States Government.  …    

On or about August 5, 2003, Ramirez, under direction of ICE agents, entered Juarez to make contact with members of the Juarez Cartel. During that contact, Ramirez recorded the murder of Fernando Reyes Aguado (Reyes), either through electronic device attached to Ramirez’s body or interception through Ramirez’s cell phone, which may have been left on during the murder

Ramirez informed ICE concerning the murder, and ICE possesses both the original recording of the murder, as well as copies of that recording.  The DEA possesses copies of the recording and transcripts of the recording as an attachment to a document (“Timeline of Events Surrounding Evacuation of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Resident Office” — Timeline of Events) … that is the subject of a FOIA request giving rise to the present complaint.    

Between August, 2003, and January, 2004, Ramirez was sent to Juarez by ICE for various missions and operations. During that time, Ramirez witnessed and participated in numerous murders ordered by Heriberto Santillan Tabares (Santillan), then a high-ranking member of the Juarez Cartel. Victims, drug dealers and transporters of drugs, were brought to the house at Calle Parsioneros 3633 in Ciudad Juarez (Parsioneros House), tortured for information as to the location of drugs or money, and then murdered.

After each murder, Ramirez reported the murder to agents of ICE. Ramirez also testified that ICE agents were aware in advance that murders would take place. For example, the following exchange occurred during testimony at an immigration hearing concerning Ramirez, who is presently in U.S. custody:  

“Lashus [Government Counsel]: Did you tell your — the ICE officers that you were aware that Mr. Santillan had ordered the deaths of people associated with the cartel?  

Ramirez Peyro: Yes.  

Lashus: Did you tell them before, right before it happened?  

Ramirez Peyro: Yeah, several occasions. For example, in one occasion in Chicago, and Santillan talks to me, so I could send the boy there to open the [Parsioneros] house and me being in Chicago with the agents from ICE, and they knew because I authorize for them to hear my phone conversations. And besides that, I told them what’s going on, and in El Paso they were listening my phone calls.”

… In affidavits in a suit against the United States and various federal employees proceeding under the Federal Tort Claims Act and Bivens claims … accused agents of ICE acknowledge that they were aware of the murders committed in the presence of, and with the assistance of, Ramirez.  

For example, Raul Bencomo (Senior Special Agent, ICE), while denying that he had prior knowledge of murders that Ramirez would be involved in acknowledged that, “We only learned about the murders through interviews of Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro  … after the fact.”  

Similar statements appear in the affidavits of Curtis R. Compton (Supervisory Special Agent, ICE), and Giovanni Gaudioso (Acting Deputy Assistant Director, Mission Support Division, Office of Investigations, ICE).    

The U.S. government contends that “ICE agents [and] officials within the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas allegedly failed to share with DEA information gained in the Santillan investigation due to mistrust.” … Former Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s El Paso Field Office, Sandalio Gonzalez, wrote to his ICE counterpart that  “Following the murder of Reyes in August 2003, your agents requested several country clearances for [Ramirez] to travel to [Juarez] and they continued sending [Ramirez] to [Juarez] while failing to report his activities to DEA as required by our own internal agreements”  

… At 8:00 a.m. on January 14, 2004, Santillan notified Ramirez to open the Parsioneros House and to get ready for “carne asadas,” or a “barbeque,” the code phrase that a victim or victims are to be procured, tortured and murdered.  At 6:05 p.m. “hired killers”  … working for Santillan, who were also members of the state judicial police, went to the Ciudad Juarez residence of Special Agent Homer McBrayer, a DEA agent with the DEA Ciudad Juarez Resident Office (CJRO).

Santillan’s men knocked on the McBrayers’ door for at least ten minutes. Special Agent McBrayer was at work and his wife and two children were at home. Mrs. McBrayer did not open the door when Santillan’s men knocked, and she immediately called her husband, who returned home, gathered up his family and started to drive toward El Paso. While driving toward El Paso, McBrayer and his family were stopped by a municipal police unit and an unmarked truck. The officers involved in this stop were apparently under orders to kidnap McBrayer, and perhaps his family, and take him to the Parsioneros House for torture and murder. With intervention of CJRO DEA agents called in by Agent McBrayer, the kidnap was averted.

Unsure about the scope of danger to agents in CJRO, all DEA agents in Juarez were evacuated to El Paso on the evening of January 14, 2004.    

On February 24, 2004, DEA SAC EL Paso Gonzalez wrote ICE SAC El Paso Gaudioso, holding ICE responsible for the events of January 14 and for threats to DEA agents caused by ICE's failure to keep the DEA apprised of its activities in Ciudad Juarez.

Subsequently, CJRO DEA agents created a detailed report of events in question [the Timeline of Events].

… This report contained attachments A through P, including various documents as well as a recording and transcript of the recording of the murder of Reyes.    

As a result of the events between August 2003 and January 2004, a Joint Assessment Team was assembled by DEA and ICE headquarters to conduct a management review of what transpired. This team conducted over 40 interviews of involved personnel, including a number of interviews with personnel in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas, and created a report of its investigation. This was not a criminal investigation, but an administrative assessment of the working relationship failures that occurred between ICE and DEA.

In an employment discrimination case filed by Gonzalez against the DEA for retaliation taken against him, the U.S. Government’s witness list includes Karen Tandy, Administrator of the DEA, and others who are to testify, at least in part, about “JAT [Joint Assessment Team]/Ciudad Juarez matters.” This leaves little doubt that the Joint Assessment Team produced a report on the incidents that took place in Juarez.

It is that JAT report, as well as the tape recording, along with other related material, that Weaver, Narco News and the NSWBC are seeking from DEA through the FOIA request. And Weaver is convinced, according to the lawsuit, that the information is already assembled, but being improperly withheld from the public by DOJ and DEA.

In fact, DOJ attorneys recently revealed in court pleadings that an effort is underway by DEA to trump all efforts seeking release of the JAT report by having portions of that report declared “classified” under the banner of national security. This trump card is being played for the first time in this case — more than two years after the JAT review was completed in February 2004 and conveniently right as legal and political pressure is mounting to force public disclosure of the report.

Weaver stated the following in a Sept. 16, 2006, letter to DEA that is referenced in the FOIA lawsuit:

Since several people with firsthand knowledge have independently explained that all of the material requested is all together and at headquarters, I have a hard time coming to any conclusion other than that my [FOIA] request is being purposefully stalled.

… The DEA is in violation of FOIA statutory time requirements with respect to this request. I have been flexible concerning these time requirements, but since I now believe it is possible the DEA is acting in bad faith concerning my requests, I am less inclined to continue that flexibility.”

The FOIA lawsuit asks the court to order DEA to “disclose the requested records in their entireties” and to “make a written finding that the circumstances surrounding withholdings in this case raise questions whether agency personnel acted arbitrarily or capriciously.”

Weaver, who is a university professor with a law degree, says he and the NSWBC are committed to exposing the truth of the House of Death. Narco News is working the oars in that boat as well.

“We are not going to stop until we either get the documents or are slammed by the courts,” Weaver says.

Stay tuned….

The House of Death FOIA lawsuit can be found at this link.

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