New Lead Surfaces in Cold “House of Death” Drug-War Case
Man on the Run From the “Cartel” Claims He Is a Witness to a Murder That Threatens the State
A new voice from the past has emerged in the House of Death mass-murder case — in which a US government informant is accused of assisting with up to a dozen murders, the bodies of the victims later found buried, covered in lime, in the backyard of a house in Juarez, Mexico.
This individual is himself a victim of the House of Death and claims to have survived its deadly grip by fractions of an inch after a bullet ripped through his head. And he has now stepped forward, out of the shadows, to tell his story.
In recent weeks, Narco News conducted a series of interviews with this individual, who asked that his name not be used because he asserts that he is still being pursued by “the cartel.”
In addition, this individual, whom we will call Juanito, has reason to fear the “Migra” in the United States will once again deport him, despite his long history of saying the pledge of allegiance in US classrooms.
Juanito was born in Mexico, he concedes, and is now living somewhere in the United States, without proper papers. However, Juanito also says he came to this country with his family at the age of six and grew up here, until he was deported more than a decade ago after a run-in with the law.
Finding himself stranded in Mexico after his forced exit from the United States, and with no family or way to make a living in Mexico, Juanito says he saw no other option but to continue to walk the path of an outlaw in the business of drug trafficking, not as a major player, but as a worker — moving cars to locations where they were needed, loading and unloading the cargo of the trade and assisting with all the other manual labor that goes with keeping a sales and distribution business in motion.
Juanito's transgression against the law, which led to his deportation at the turn of the century, resulted from youthful indiscretion, a decision in his early 20s, after visiting friends in Mexico, to drive a car back across the border packed with contraband, marijuana, the stuff of parties and play in a broad swath of consumer America. He did 30 months, he says, in a US prison for that act, and then got a one-way ticket back to Mexico courtesy of Uncle Sam, soon winding up in Juarez, separated from his family, who had long ago left the motherland and settled in Las Vegas.
If Juanito’s story is true, then what he saw and experienced during his time in Juarez, as the House of Death was playing out, could make him a key witness against a group of assassins operating under the cloak of Mexican law enforcement, who, according to multiple sources, are still at large and active in the trade.
In addition to torturing and murdering the House of Death victims, these same Mexican state police officers also were involved in targeting a DEA agent and his family during the course of the House of Death mayhem.
As part of a phony traffic stop on Jan. 14, 2004, the killer cops confronted the US agent while he and his family were in a car headed for El Paso. The agent was asked to step out of the vehicle, but refused, instead calling for assistance from a fellow agent, who showed up at the scene in the nick of time, causing the hit team to back off and prepare for another day.
As you will see, kind readers, it may well have been that act of refusal that saved the DEA agent’s life, if you believe Juanito’s story.
The US informant who participated in the House of Death murders — Guillermo Ramirez Peyro — was a former Mexican cop on the payroll of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ramirez Peyro also was under the oversight of a U.S. Attorney in Texas at the time, Johnny Sutton — a longtime friend and political ally of President George W. Bush and a golden boy in the Department of Justice, then overseen by US Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Ramirez Peyro became a liability for ICE and the Department of Justice after the House of Death murders, and his US government-sanctioned role in the homicides, became public. He is now living in hiding somewhere in the United States after successfully battling his former employer’s efforts to deport him to a certain death in Mexico. Ramirez Peyro also played a role in that near-fatal traffic stop of the DEA agent and his family by agreeing in mid-January 2004 to prepare the House of Death for yet another “carne asada,” [code for a torture/murder session.] One of the individuals brought to the House of Death in the wake of those preparations, the informant later told Narco News, was a DEA informant, whom Ramirez Peyro claims likely leaked the the location of the DEA agent’s home in Juarez to the sicario cops in a failed bid to save his life. That alleged DEA informant was among the victims found buried in the backyard of the House of Death in Juarez.
The informant Ramirez Peyro did help DEA to head off further threats against their agents in Juarez after the traffic stop by warning his ICE handlers of the impending danger to US law-enforcement personnel in that city due to the House of Death blowback. That warning prompted DEA to evacuate all of its agents from the city.
But it seems clear it was the fast and smart decisions made by the DEA agent whose vehicle was stopped on the street that saved his life, and that of his family — not the intervention of the informant. The assassins who confronted the agent and his family that day, based on law enforcement records obtained by Narco News, apparently did not realize, or care, whether he was, in fact, a US law enforcer — possibly assuming he was a rival trafficker, or a crooked cop, either of which would have meant mercy was not in the cards had help not arrived.
And that brings us back to Juanito, and his place in the House of Death slaughter.
Narco News did check out Juanito’s story, as best as can be done in the netherworld of the narco-trafficking jungle. The level of detail in his story, and his consistency in recalling that detail, makes it difficult to believe he is making things up. In addition, key events he outlines do coincide with details revealed by Narco News sources and in US government documents that have surfaced in the House of Death case, including a DEA timeline of events, the informant Ramirez Peyro’s official statement to the Mexican government, and US court records.
So, his story, it seems, merits telling. And so we begin….
It began with an email from Juanito:
Am the surviver of the 01 15 2004 were Rodolfo Renteria cervantes was murder I got shot on the face need too talk about some things that I know about the cartel.
The “cartel” Juanito refers to is the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes narco-trafficking organization, which is composed of a series of cells, led by their own capos, who can act independently as allowed, but who, when aligned in a single purpose through orders from the main bosses, can hold the entire city of Juarez in a vice-like grip through their reach into official government and the streets. In recent years, the control exercised over the Juarez drug market, or plaza, by the VCF organization is being challenged by other powerful forces in the drug business under the banner of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on the “cartels.”
In 2003 and 2004, when the House of Death was oozing blood, Juanito claims he worked for Renteria Cervantes, a bit player who was not part of the powerful narco-trafficking cell overseeing the House of Death, a cell controlled by an individual named Heriberto Santillan — and for whom the US informant Ramirez Peyro was a right-hand man. Juanito claims this was an era in Juarez’ narco-trafficking history when the VCF determined that anyone running drugs through the Juarez plaza, even marijuana, had to pay financial tribute to the VCF organization for that privilege or face a savage penalty — with the House of Death, and others like it, serving as the court of justice for administering that penalty.
Juanito claims Renteria Cervantes made a fatal error on that front by purchasing some “cheap” marijuana from a supplier and selling a portion of that payload in Juarez itself. It turned out, Juanito contends, that one of the reasons the marijuana was so inexpensive was because it was likely stolen from the VCF, a crime punishable by death. And it was Santillan’s cell of the VCF that supplied some of the enforcement power — through a Mexican state police commander named Miguel Loya and officers under his supervision. These Mexican cops served as the enforcers, the sicarios, who were charged with carrying out the ultimate penalties — and they were extremely efficient at their jobs.
Juanito told Narco News:
We were at Rodolfo’s [Renteria Cervantes’] house [on Jan. 15, 2004]. And that same morning me and his son went out to get something to eat, some barbacoa. And we saw a car parking on the street; we saw a red car. Then we went back into the house and I told Rodolfo that there’s a car, I don’t know, like mysterious. And he said, “You guys are just scared.”
So we ate breakfast and everything, and he gave me the keys to the truck and I said nah, because I didn’t want to go with him because I had other things to do, but he said, “Nah, you drive.” And I said, “No you’re driving.” So I threw the keys back to him and we went in the truck and we went down the street like three houses and we saw those guys come, walking to us, to the truck and they said they were police, and they asked for his name, and Rodolfo said, “No that’s not my name.” They said, “No, I know it’s you.”
The first thing they say is get out of the truck. So he [Rodolfo] got out and I got out, and then this guy [one of the Mexican state police, not in uniform, but with state police badges] was pointing the gun at me in the head, and I heard the shots, something going boom, boom, like that, and I turned my head around and that’s when they shot me in the face [near the left ear, with the bullet lodging in his jaw]. So one shot him [Rodolfo] and the other one shot me [and then Juanito’s shooter walked over to Rodolfo and put a second bullet in his skull for good measure].
And I know the names of those cops.
That knowledge, it seems, is critical, in terms of Juanito’s standing as a witness to murder; to being a key to apprehending the individuals involved in the aborted assassination of the DEA agent and his family; and to explaining why Juanito is still on the run, still fearing retribution from the “cartel.”
In the wake of the shooting, presuming Juanito was dead, the Mexican cops left the scene, and an ambulance appeared shortly after, called by Rodolfo’s family, who had heard the shots that killed him. Juanito was rushed to the hospital, with the police coming to investigate the crime scene after the ambulance had departed. Among the cops appearing at the crime scene, and seen laughing, Juanito says he later found out, was the chief sicario at the House of Death, Miguel Loya, a night shift commander for the Mexican state police in Juarez.
Juanito said he spend about 20 days in a coma in the hospital in Juarez. When he woke, Mexican police were at his bedside, asking him to identify his shooters. He says he told them the cops’ names, and even identified them via photos. That’s when things began to go even further south for him, he says. The police kept returning to the hospital, pressing him for more information, but he says it was clear to him they were far more interested in knowing how much he knew, and whom he knew, than they were in apprehending suspects.
From an interview with Juanito:
So they show me some pictures [of cops] and I said, “Oh this is one, and this is the other one.” They said, “Are you sure.” And I said, “Man I could see their faces; I know it’s them.” … Then they went outside and came back and started asking if we were working for who and all that, you know. … And after that they wanted to take pictures, and I said, “I don’t want you guys to take no pictures” … and they said OK, and they left, and that same night, the nurses was putting a diaper on me. … I heard somebody calling my name, you know, and the nurses closed the door and started almost screaming. And they called the cops, but they [the cops] said they couldn’t find the guys who come inside at night [at the hospital] asking for me, but they said they had some machine guns with them.
[So the doctors at the hospital] said I need to call the cops so I can get protection day and night because I was putting people in danger. I said no, because they're the ones who probably want me dead because they know I know the people [the cops] that did this to me.
Juanito says, at that point, less than six days after emerging from a coma, he, with the help of his family and friends, left the hospital and moved into an safe house in Juarez for several weeks, where he continued to receive health care from nurses who were being paid under the table.
“After that, they took me to Durango, Mexico, to hide over there and see how things go,” Juanito says.
In Durango, Juanito’s family, who lived in Las Vegas, Nev., had purchased some property where he hid out, living in the community under the radar for some two years. But eventually, he said, “Some people from La Linea [another name for the enforcers working for the VCF organization] found me.”
Juanito said one day some people showed up in Durango asking questions about him, and because it’s a small community, he got a heads up about the strangers, who were driving a truck with Chihuahua state plates — the state where Juarez is located. The next day, he says, he found an abandoned truck parked near his family’s property in Durango, “with an AK 47 in it and it was full of blood and human brains.” Juanito adds that the air had been let out of the tires of the truck, so it couldn’t easily be moved, and that there was a report of human body parts being found along a roadside about 10 to 20 miles away.
“So I got out of [Durango] and went back to Juarez and found a coyote and then I [crossed the border],” Juanito says. “I move to Las Vegas, Nevada....”
He found work in Las Vegas doing construction jobs that paid pretty well and lived there for several years, near his family.
Then, Juanito says: "One day my dad is outside [his house] and a stranger shows up asking, 'Is your son here.' My dad said, 'No, he doesn’t live here.' And he [the stranger] said, 'He owes me a car….'"
There was another visitation after that, a knock on the door at night. And yet another time, as his father was walking to his house, “a guy got out of a car and started following him,” Juanito recalls.
“My dad asked him if he was following him, and he [the stranger] said, 'No. I’m looking for your son. He owes me something and I need to fix things with him.' … My dad called me then, crying, saying, 'They’re still looking for you.'
“That’s when my dad sold that house and I moved [out of Las Vegas],” Juanito adds. “Not even my family knows where I am living now. …They [the 'cartel'] know I saw a lot, a lot of faces of people.”
Juanito adds one more detail to his story that might go a long way in explaining at least one of the thousands of unsolved murders in Juarez in recent years — if, in fact, the murder is even recorded anywhere in the public record.
The reason why I am more afraid for my life [now than ever, even in the United States] is because the place were I was hiding out at [in Juarez] after the hospital, the ones [who] was helping me … in May of 2010 she got killed. They followed her and shot her. It seems they are stopping by all the places were I been. Her name was Lorena Ojeda.
It could well be the Mexican state cops who shot Juanito in the face and killed his boss, Rodolfo Renteria Cervantes, may be the source of Juanito’s current nightmare. The names of those cops, Juanito alleges he told Mexican law enforcers at the time of the shooting, are Erick Cano Aguilera and Alvaro Valdez Rivas.
Those same names show up in a statement ICE informant Ramirez Peyro gave to the Mexican government concerning the House of Death and in a DEA timeline of events about the case that was obtained by Narco News previously.
From the informant Ramírez Peyro’s statement:
… I went with the judicial police [to the House of Death] whose names were Perez, who I know now is Lorenzo Ramirez, and Valdez, who I now know to be Alvaro Valdez. … They sat him [a Mexican lawyer and drug dealer named Fernando] in the chair and Santillan left the house. At that moment Valdez and Perez came out of where they were hiding and put tape over his [Fernando’s] mouth. And he began to struggle with the judicial police and they asked me to help them get him to the floor. They tried to choke him with an extension cord, but this broke and I gave them a plastic bag and they put it on his head and suffocated him. … I asked the judicial police if they were sure that Fernando was dead upon which Perez took a “barreta”-style shovel and hit him many times on the head until he was sure he was dead.
And this, from a DEA timeline of events surrounding the House of Death case, which Narco News obtained previously through a Freedom of Information Act request:
Investigation to date reflects that the referenced telephone calls and traffic stop [of the DEA agent and his family] were, in fact, overt acts within a conspiracy between [VCF cell leader] Santillan..., [Mexican state police commander Miguel] Loya … and others to identify and execute those responsible for the unauthorized transit or loss of approximately 4,000 pounds of marijuana. It is suspected that the conspiracy involved the kidnapping and torture and murder of three individuals on January 14 [2004, including the alleged DEA informant], which resulted in the subsequent identification and murder of a fourth subject…. This fourth subject is identified as Rodolfo Renteria-Cervantes. …It is further suspected that the traffic stop of [Special Agent] McBrayer [and his family] on January 14, 2004, [in Juarez] was a misdirected attempt by co-conspirators to identify and locate Renteria-Cervantes and/or a related [drug] stash house location.
… Investigative Note: One of the subjects [involved in the traffic stop of DEA agent McBrayer] subsequently identified himself … as David Rodriguez. The CJRO [DEA’s office in Juarez] later determined the true identity of this subject as Chihuahua State Judicial Police Agent Erick Cano Aguilera.…
… Cano-Aguilera was subsequently identified by the CS [confidential source, or informant, Ramirez Peyro] as a participant in the murders occurring at the residence [the House of Death].…
… The State of Chihuahua posted U.S. $10,000 rewards for information leading to the arrests of the fugitive state police officers, Miguel Loya … Erick Cano-Aguilera, Alvaro Valdez-Rivas….
“This is potentially a block buster of a story and more importantly evidence that should lead to indictments if it’s for real,” says one former DEA agent about Juanito’s revelations. “I have my own ideas how I would use this guy to seek indictments IF I were on the job.”
But even if the details of Juanito’s story are on the mark, his fate ahead, and the odds of his story ever being heard in a court of justice, seem rather bleak, given the other reality of the House of Death case, according another US law enforcers who spoke with Narco News.
“His [Juanito’s] story is plausible,” says one former US federal law enforcer, who asked that his name not be used. “If anyone [in power] really tried to do something with the House of Death case, he [Juanito] would be a witness. But it seems everyone has forgotten about the murders and the targeting of the DEA agent. All they did is work to cover up the government misconduct. They didn’t care that someone tried to kill a DEA agent or that a US informant was involved in all these murders.”
In fact, the one DEA agent who did try to speak up against the House of Death madness was essentially drummed out of the agency.
In the wake ICE’s subsequent stonewalling of the investigation into the traffic stop of the DEA agents due to alleged concern it might compromise their informant Ramirez Peyro, the head of DEA’s El Paso office, Sandalio Gonzalez, wrote a letter in February 2004 to the head of ICE’s El Paso office. A copy of that letter also was sent to then-U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.
In that letter, Gonzalez decried ICE’s handling of the Santillan investigation and the needless murders (aided by a US informant) that were allowed to take place at the House of Death all in the name of making a drug case. He also expressed his outrage at the fact that ICE El Paso and an Assistant U.S. Attorney in El Paso had rebuffed DEA’s efforts to gain access to the informant Ramirez Peyro after the evacuation of DEA agents from Juarez. In addition, Gonzalez blew the whistle on their efforts to thwart DEA’s attempt to capture Miguel Loya – who, as a result, managed to escape, along with several of his henchmen, including Erick Cano Aguilera and Alvaro Valdez Rivas.
In reaction to Gonzalez’ letter, Sutton and the DEA Administrator at the time conspired to silence and retaliate against Gonzalez, rather than investigate his charges. Gonzalez was ordered not to speak of his letter to anyone and received a negative job-performance review criticizing him for poor judgment in writing the letter. He also was denied further promotions and has since retired from DEA, in large part due to the retaliation he suffered at the hands of DEA.
Gonzalez told Narco News in a past interview that the retaliation for writing the whistleblower letter was orchestrated by Sutton, who wanted to bury the letter because it was deemed “discovery material” (evidence) that threatened to compromise a career-boosting death-sentence case against a major narco-trafficker. That means, Gonzalez alleged, that Sutton is implicated in the cover-up of a U.S. government informant’s participation in mass murder. (VCF capo Santillan, who was eventually lured to the US and arrested, subsequently cut a plea deal with Sutton's office and all murder charges against him, and fugitive Mexican state police commander Loya, were dropped — under the rational that Mexico had a superior interest in prosecuting the homicides. Santillan's plea deal was arranged coincidentally shortly after Gonzalez' letter became public, obtained by Narco News through a Freedom of Information Act request.)
Sutton has declined numerous requests from Narco News to be interviewed about the House of Death case.
Ironically, Sutton, who has since stepped down from his US Attorney’s post to pursue work in the private sector, becoming a partner in a law and consulting firm (the Ashcroft Group) launched by John Ashcroft — who, as US Attorney General at the time of the House of Death, served as Sutton’s boss.
Ashcroft, while head of the Justice Department, also was “personally briefed” about the “issues with ICE” — that is, the complicity of ICE agents and their informant in the House of Death murders, according to a legal deposition provided under oath by former DEA Administrator Karen Tandy.
Ashcroft, in addition to his role with the Ashcroft Group, also now serves on the board of directors (as chief ethics adviser) to a private security company known as Academi — formerly known as Xe Services, and earlier as Blackwater. Academi, according to some Mexican press reports, recently obtained, via a Department of Justice contract, a piece of the action in the lucrative “drug war” in Latin America.
Sutton and Ashcroft, and their compadres, operate in a world of power and success that is fed by a drug war which, like it or not, breeds on misery and death, a world that would seemingly be threatened by the revelations being brought forth by Juanito, should they pan out to be true.
So who in power would care? Where does someone like Juanito turn to plead his case for justice? To the halls of government?
It seems he is a man without a country, without a home, caught in the devil’s canyon, without a hope of climbing out of it.
Like the informant Ramirez Peyro, who also is in hiding somewhere in the US, Juanito appears to be part of the “spillover” from a prohibited business that mainstream media, for the most part, doesn’t see clearly or understand, and which could each day place any of us, kind readers, in the crossfire of a failed, deadly drug war that continues to reward its plundering generals with impunity.
For past coverage of the House of Death by Narco News, go to this link.