Clues Put FBI Informant at the Apex of Fast and Furious Scandal
US Weapons “Walked” Into Mexico Under ATF Operation Supplied Firepower for Juarez Bloodbath
A top enforcer for the Sinaloa drug organization and his army of assassins in Juarez, Mexico — responsible for a surge in violence in that city that has led to thousands of deaths in recent years — may well have been supplied hundreds, if not thousands, of weapons through an ill-fated US law-enforcement operation known as Fast and Furious.
That enforcer, Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, was arrested by Mexican police in February this year and is now the subject of a 14-count US indictment unsealed in late April in San Antonio, Texas, that also charges the alleged leaders of the Sinaloa organization (Joaquin Guzman Loera, or El Chapo; and Ismael Zambada Garcia, or El Mayo) and 21 other individuals with engaging in drug and firearms trafficking, money laundering and murder in “furtherance of a criminal enterprise.”
However, public records and media reports reveal that the trail of weapons that reportedly helped Maruffo unleash a bloody war against the rival Juarez drug organization for control of the market leads, at least in part, back to the doorstep of US law enforcement agencies, principally the FBI and ATF, through the contortions of the US-sanctioned gun-running operation known as Fast and Furious.
Marrufo is allegedly responsible, according to the Mexican government, for the murders of some 18 people at the El Aliviane drug-treatment center in Juarez in the fall of 2009. In addition, the indictment in San Antonio contends he is responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murders of several people who lived in the United States, including a Horizon City, Texas, resident who was killed for losing a load of marijuana to a Border Patrol seizure.
In another case, the US indictment alleges, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, the following:
Specifically, Torres Marrufo caused an individual in El Paso to travel to a wedding ceremony in Juarez to confirm the identity of a target. The target was the groom, a United States citizen and a resident of Columbus, NM. Under Torres Marrufo’s orders, the groom, his brother and his uncle were all kidnapped during the wedding ceremony and subsequently tortured and murdered. Their bodies were discovered by Juarez police a few days later in the bed of an abandoned pickup truck. Additionally, a fourth person was killed during the kidnapping at the wedding ceremony.
Fast and Furious
Under Fast and Furious, launched in the fall of 2009, the nation’s federal gun-law enforcer, ATF, in conjunction with a task force composed of several other federal agencies, including the FBI, allowed nearly 2,000 weapons to be smuggled into Mexico. These deliveries of deadly weapons were allowed to “walk” across the border, where they were put into the clutches of criminal organizations, such as those overseen by alleged Sinaloa enforcer Marrufo, so that US law enforcers could supposedly later trace the trail of those guns to the so-called kingpins of Mexico’s criminal organizations.
That evidence would, in theory, lead to some major convictions in US courts and plenty of positive press for the drug-law enforcers. All that makes for big career boosts for the US attorneys and law enforcement brass who get to stand in front of the cameras and take credit for helping to "win" the drug war.
The problem, of course, is that in the wake of Fast and Furious, many people, many innocent Mexican citizens, were mowed down by the bullets fired by those smuggled guns — which could have, and should have, been intercepted by ATF agents long before they ever crossed the border.
The entire operation came to a screeching halt in early 2011, after a Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was murdered in Arizona in late 2010 and a couple of assault rifles used in that attack were found at the scene and traced back to the Fast and Furious operation. That incident prompted a Congressional investigation. led by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley and Republican U.S. Rep. Darryl Issa, that, though seemingly more political than truth-seeking, continues to this day.
The main US target of Fast and Furious from the start was an individual named Manuel Celis Acosta, who has since been indicted. Acosta was supposedly the ringleader of a group of “straw” gun purchasers who were acquiring weapons from US gun stores, under the watch of ATF, and then smuggling them into Mexico.
A Sept. 27, 2011, letter drafted by U.S. Rep. Issa and U.S. Sen. Grassley and directed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., however, contends that “the financier for Acosta's firearms trafficking ring … began cooperating with the FBI and may have received additional payments as a confidential informant.”
A Feb. 1, 2012, memo drafted by staff for Grassley and Issa, thickens the plot, indicating that there were, in fact, two FBI informants involved with purchasing weapons from Acosta, and ATF had no clue that these so-called “big fish,” the high-level targets of Fast and Furious, were, in fact, working for a sister agency.
From the Congressional memo:
When ATF finally brought the ringleader, Celis-Acosta, in for his proffer after his indictment in January 2011, ATF learned the names of the two cartel associates. These were the “big fish” that [ATF Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Bill] Newell had hoped to catch as a result of Fast and Furious and the federal wiretaps. Because the ATF wiretaps and ATF agent surveillance had thus far failed to identify these associates, the proffer was the first time ATF identified these individuals.
Shockingly, though, other federal law enforcement components of the Department of Justice [such as the FBI and DEA] were already aware of the two cartel associates that ATF had finally identified. Their names appeared frequently in DEA call logs provided to ATF — in December 2009. Inexplicably, ATF failed to review all the materials DEA had provided, missing these prime investigative targets.
Additionally, DEA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had jointly opened a separate investigation specifically targeting these two cartel associates. As early as mid-January 2010, both agencies had collected a wealth of information on these associates. Yet, ATF spent the next year engaging in the reckless tactics of Fast and Furious in attempting to identify them.
During the course of this separate investigation, the FBI designated these two cartel associates as national security assets. [essentially foreign-intelligence agents, or informants]. In exchange for one individual’s guilty plea to a minor count of “Alien in Possession of a Firearm,” both became FBI informants and are now considered to be unindictable. This means that the entire goal of Fast and Furious — to target these two individuals and bring them to justice — was a failure. ATF’s discovery that the primary targets of their investigation were not indictable was “a major disappointment.” [Emphasis added.]
A recent Fox News report purports, via unnamed sources, to reveal the identity of these two alleged FBI informants.
That report identifies them as Eduardo and Jesus A. Miramontes Varela — both Mexican nationals who “worked for the Sinaloa Cartel when they became informants for the FBI in 2009.”
Then, in late April of this year, the Los Angeles Times came out with an exclusive story about Jesus A. Miramontes Varela, though that report, based on leaked documents, does not link him to Acosta or directly to the Fast and Furious investigation, other than to indicate that ATF “had tracked $250,000 in illegal gun purchases to Miramontes Varela and his brother through its ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-smuggling surveillance operation in Arizona.”
The Los Angeles Times report traces the history of Miramontes Varela, revealing that just prior to becoming an FBI informant, he pleaded guilty to charges of being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm — the same charge mentioned in the Congressional memo. Miramontes Varela, the Los Angeles times reports, worked in the drug-trafficking business in Juarez in the early 2000s but by 2008 had set up his own arms- and drug-trafficking network on the US side of the border, operating out of New Mexico and Colorado — before being “transformed into one of the FBI’s top informants on the Southwest border.”
So it seems — if those media reports and Congressional records are to be believed — Miramontes Varela was, in fact, a major financier and purchaser of weapons acquired from US gun stores by the gun-smuggling ring headed by Fast and Furious’ target Acosta.
Yet another staff report prepared for Grassley and Issa’s investigation into Fast and Furious, released on July 26, 2011, reports the following:
On January 13, 2010, the ATF Dallas Field Division seized 40 rifles [in the US] traced to [an] Operation Fast and Furious suspect. This seizure connected Operation Fast and Furious suspects with a specific high-level “plaza boss” in the Sinaloa DTO [drug trafficking organization]. Additionally, this seizure may have represented a shift in the movement of Operation Fast and Furious weapons in order to provide the necessary firearms for the Sinaloa Cartel’s battle for control of the Juarez drug smuggling corridor. [Emphasis added.]
Mexican federal police in February of this year arrested Marrufo, who was described by the Mexican government as a significant player in the Sinaloa drug organization.
Last year, in April, Mexican police raided a Juarez home allegedly owned by Marrufo (who was not there at the time) and discovered a cache of high-powered weapons, 40 of which were traced back to gun sales made through ATF’s Fast and Furious operation, according to news reports at the time.
Those 40 weapons, it appears, according to an October 2011 Lost Angeles Times report, were likely part of a cache of “100 assault weapons acquired under Fast and Furious [and] transported 350 miles from Phoenix to El Paso.”
“Forty of the weapons made it across the border and into the arsenal of Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, a feared cartel leader in Ciudad Juarez,” the Los Angeles Times reported, sourcing federal court documents and ATF records.
One Narco News source, who claims to have known and worked under Marrufo in Mexico in the past and is now in hiding in the US, contends that Miramontes Varela in the early 2000s did business for the Juarez “Cartel” — as did Marrufo, the source alleges, prior to switching allegiances in the early 2000s and putting in his lot with the rival Sinaloa organization. The source alleges further that Miramontes Varela had a falling out with the Juarez organization after “he stole from them” and “that’s when he started working with Marrufo and the Sinaloa organization” — as well, apparently, for the FBI.
Whether that source is to be believed, given the murky world within which the drug-trafficking business exists, is not clear, nor is it clear from the available evidence if the guns found in Marrufo’s home in Juarez in April 2011 can be linked directly to Miramontes Varela.
But it is clear, based on the media reports and Mexican government press statements about Marrufo, that, prior to his arrest earlier this year, he was a “high-level ‘plaza boss,’” for the Sinaloa organization in Juarez and that he has clearly been connected to weapons that were smuggled across the border into Juarez as part of Fast and Furious. And it also seems probable, according to the Congressional and media reports, that alleged FBI informant Miramontes Varela was a major “financier for” Fast and Furious weapons purchases, weapons that eventually landed in the hands of the Sinaloa “Cartel’s” enforcers in Juarez.
No one in US law enforcement contacted by Narco News wanted to discuss the particulars of Miramontes Varela’s informant status, or his possible connections to Marrufo, due to the sensitive nature of informant matters.
In addition to San Antonio, Marrufo also is facing a drug- and gun-trafficking charges in an indictment filed against him in February 2011 by the US Attorney's office in El Paso, which is under the umbrella of the US Attorney’s Office in San Antonio.
Should Marrufo be extradited by Mexico to stand trail in federal court in San Antonio or El Paso, those cases may yet yield future clues to the sordid relationships that were part of the failed Fast and Furious operation and the trail of blood left in its wake in Mexico and the US — all for the sake, seemingly, of allowing US law enforcement brass and prosecutors to score career and media points.
For now, though, we will have to be satisfied with the clues we can piece together from the public-record trail, all pointing to yet another chapter of US complicity in murder in Latin America to advance classified national interests, which, in this era, all too often are cloaked in the empty rhetoric of the war on drugs.