Former ICE Informant Sues US Prosecutors, Federal Agents
Litigation Claims US Officials Conspired To Silence The Informant And Cover-up Their Role In The House of Death Murders
A former US government informant who penetrated one of the most ruthless drug organizations in Mexico has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a group of federal prosecutors and agents as well as several county sheriffs and detention-facility officials alleging they acted in a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.
The accuser, Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro, is a former Mexican federal cop who worked for a top lieutenant (Humberto Santillan Tabares) of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes drug organization in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in the early to mid-2000s.
As part of that work, Ramirez Peyro was responsible for overseeing the infamous House of Death, which was the site of multiple gruesome torture/murders. A dozen bodies were ultimately found buried in the backyard of the house, located at 3633 Calle Parsonieros in Juarez. Ramirez Peyro was charged with assuring the house was opened up whenever Santillan wanted a murder carried out, and he also was responsible for overseeing the burial of the bodies at the house.
The lawsuit names some 35 defendants as actors in the alleged conspiracy to violate Ramirez Peyro’s constitutional rights. They include past and present employees of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US Marshals Service and various county sheriffs in Texas and Minnesota.
In addition, the litigation accuses some of the most powerful US prosecutors in Texas of being party to the alleged conspiracy.
Ramirez Peyro, in his pleadings, claims those US prosecutors, with the assistance of the other defendants, as part of a “meeting of the minds,” conspired to imprison him for nearly six years in furtherance of a cover-up designed to conceal their complicity in the House of Death murders.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York under seal in late July and seeks in excess of $125 million in damages from the defendants collectively.
Among those named in the lawsuit are former Western District of Texas US Attorney Johnny Sutton as well as Margaret Leachman, now Criminal Division chief in the Western District; Richard Durbin, now first Assistant US Attorney in the Western District; and Juanita Fielden, Assistant US Attorney in the Western District’s El Paso division.
Although the litigation is now cloaked from public inspection, Narco News, through sources, was able to obtain pleadings from the case.
The lawsuit is under seal, in part, to assure that Ramirez Peyro’s location is not revealed, given his life is in jeopardy.
In addition to the ongoing threat from the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) narco-trafficking organization, “about 16 people are now out of prison that Lalo [Ramirez Peyro] helped to put in prison,” says Steve Cohen, Ramirez Peyro’s attorney.
Cohen declined to comment on the litigation, given it is sealed; however, he previously provided this comment to Narco News:
Mr. Peyro put his life on the line for the United States of America time after time. He is directly responsible for approximately 50 criminal convictions of upper echelon cartel members, as well as the removal of huge quantities of drugs from the streets of this country….
Narco News did contact Sutton’s law office in Austin for comment, but he did not respond prior to press time.
Daryl Fields, spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, also was contacted about the allegations raised in Ramirez Peyro’s pleadings.
“We have no comment,” Fields said in an email to Narco News.
In affidavits [links here and here] filed in prior litigation related to the House of Death murders, Fielden and former ICE Special Agent in Charge Giovanni Gaudioso, (also named as a defendant in the current case) each contend they did nothing improper in the handling of Ramirez Peyro as an informant and also stress that they had no prior knowledge of any of the murders carried out at the House of Death in Juarez.
Ramirez Peyro’s lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Western District of New York, concedes that he was present for at least three murders at the House of Death and oversaw the burials of other victims.
Ramirez Peyro tape-recorded the first murder because he feared, initially, that he was going to be the target. Instead, three men — two of them Mexican cops — executed Mexican attorney Fernando Reyes while Ramirez Peyro was present at the house, the legal pleadings claim.
“It was the practice of organized crime organizations, when unsure of a valued soldiers loyalty, to have him participate in murders to simultaneously prove their loyalty or render them useless as informants,” Ramirez Peyro’s lawsuit asserts.
Ramirez Peyro immediately returned to El Paso, Texas, after the murder of Reyes to report what had happened to his ICE handlers. At that point, the lawsuit alleges, Department of Justice officials made a fateful choice.
From Ramirez Peyro’s pleadings:
Defendant Fielden was immediately informed about the tape recording and [Ramirez Peyro] and [Raul] Bencomo [the informant’s ICE handler] expressed that they were uncomfortable with proceeding any further in the undercover investigation. They were overruled by … [ICE Special Agent in Charge] Gaudioso and [US prosecutor] Fielden, and [Ramirez Peyro] was directed to continue to work with the Jaurez Drug Cartel [the VCF].
[Ramirez Peyro] was instructed by … Gaudioso to attempt to avoid being present when executions were being performed, but if he found himself to be present, not to record them.
… Gaudioso and Fielden informed [then-US Attorney] Sutton, [then-Assistant US Attorney] Leachman and [then-Chief of the Western District’s Criminal Division] Durbin about the execution of Reyes and the fact that a tape existed recording the execution.
… Durbin and Sutton, rather than shut down the ongoing, undercover operation, ordered it to continue.
… Information concerning the execution of Reyes was communicated up to the highest levels of the United States Department of Justice, including Deputy Asst. Attorney General [James] Comey [recently named the director of the FBI], Deputy Attorney General John T. Malcolm and Attorney General John Ashcroft [who now employs Sutton in his law practice, the Ashcroft Law Firm].
Ramirez Peyro, between August 2003 and January 2004, informed his US government handlers about subsequent murders at the House of Death, often in advance of them taking place, he contends.
“Both ICE and the US Department of Justice had knowledge of these executions, both through the tapped cell phones and the information provided by [Ramirez Peyro],” the lawsuit alleges. “After each such execution, [Ramirez Peyro] and Raul Benecomo asked for the operation to be terminated and for arrests to be made. However [Ramirez Peyro] was instructed to continue his undercover work.”
The Alleged Cover-up
After the House of Death was exposed in early 2004 — in the wake of Santillan targeting a DEA agent and his family for execution — Ramirez Peyro was put into protective custody, until the summer of 2004 — when an attempt was made on his life in El Paso, Texas. At that point, the lawsuit alleges, Ramirez Peyro was put into an isolation unit at a detention facility in Texas “under the guise of a material witness” for the pending Santillan trial.
However, then-US Attorney Sutton in April 2005 cut a plea deal with VCF cell-leader Santillan — in which he received a 25-year sentence and all murder charges against him were dropped.
But rather than releasing Ramirez Peyro at that point, the litigation contends US prosecutors and agents coerced him to remain in prison under threat of deporting his wife and children — who had been given temporary visas to stay in the US and who would have faced certain death at the hands of VCF operatives if sent back to Mexico.
In May 2005, after Sutton’s plea deal with Santillan was inked, the US government initiated deportation proceedings against Ramirez Peyro — who also faced the prospect of certain torture and murder by VCF assassins upon his return to Mexico.
From Ramirez Peyro’s legal pleadings:
… Sutton, Gaudioso, Fielden, Leachman, Durbin [and other defendants] entered into a conspiracy to cover up the fact that they not only knew about the murders [at the House of Death in Juarez], but were listening in on devices provided to [Ramirez Peyro] by Defendants for that purpose, and to cover up the fact that they had instructed [Ramirez Peyro] to continue his work with full knowledge that he had been assigned to maintain the "House of Death" where executions on behalf of the Juarez Cartel [the VCF] were occurring.
…Fielden, Sutton, Gaudioso, Leachman and Durbin decided that if [Ramirez Peyro] was allowed to testify truthfully at the Santillan trial, that they would be implicated in the murders and that ICE … had knowledge, both before and after the fact, that individuals were being executed and buried by the Juarez Cartel at the "House of Death."
… Sutton, Gaudioso, Fielden, Leachman and Durbin hatched a conspiracy to cover up the House of Death murders.
… Sutton, Gaudioso, Fielden, Leachman and Durbin conspired to enter [into] a plea deal with Santillan so his matter did not go to trial.
During the five years after the Santillan plea deal, Ramirez Peyro was kept imprisoned by US officials while facing deportation proceedings. Ultimately, Ramirez Peyro prevailed, and was released from prison in April 2010 after securing a temporary deferral of removal under United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) due to the credible threat to his life should he be deported to Mexico.
The now-pending litigation, however, contends the nearly six years Ramirez Peyro spent in prison, most of it in isolation, was punitive and part of an effort to cover-up the House of Death murders by silencing and punishing him.
More from the pleadings:
[Ramirez Peyro] was moved from one county detention facility to another, including Wilson County Jail in Floresville, Texas; Midland County Central Detention Center in Midland, Texas; Washington County Jail in Stillwater, Minnesota; and Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, Minnesota [and ultimately the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in New York], and each of which he was sequestered in SHUs [Special Housing Units].
[Ramirez Peyro] … at each of the county detention facilities, was held in total isolation from other prisoners, deprived of his family, friends, and the outside world under conditions far more stringent than necessary.
… Said conditions did not affect any legitimate purpose of ensuring his testimony or protecting [Ramirez Peyro] from potential assassins or serve any other legitimate purpose.
… During the period [Ramirez Peyro] was confined in said county facilities, he had no access to a phone, no access to television or newspapers, was deprived of access to soap and other elementary means of sanitation, was housed in a tiny cell sometimes up to 23 hours a day, with a floor contaminated by feces and urine, and his hands and ankles were chained and shackled to his waist any time he was outside his cell.
… Each time that [Ramirez Peyro], who had no charges, criminal or otherwise, filed or pending against him, was transferred from one facility to another, his feet were shackled together, his hands were shackled to his waist, he was accompanied by at least 10 federal agents, was moved in the middle of the night, with lights and sirens on the vehicle he was transported in, and with escort vehicles closing traffic. If he traveled by airplane, it was on a private plane owned by the US government.
The lawsuit contends Ramirez Peyro’s detention, and his treatment while imprisoned, violated his constitutional rights, specifically his rights as a Mexican citizen residing in the US, “to be secure against unreasonable seizure of his person and to be secure against the denial of due process” as well as his “rights of free speech and association.”
From the pleadings:
[Ramirez Peyro] had not committed any infractions while in prison, he was not unruly, he was not disruptive, and he did not violate any rules; his confinement in SHU [Special Housing Units] was strictly enforced to gag [Ramirez Peyro] so he could not reveal the true facts underlying the House of Death murders and the government's cover up.
At several of the facilities at which [Ramirez Peyro] was confined, the media tried to speak with and/or interview [him], but they were foreclosed from doing so.
As a result of being kept in continuous solitary confinement, [Ramirez Peyro’s] First Amendment Constitutional rights of free speech and association were severely obstructed by Defendants. [Ramirez Peyro’s] right to speak and associate is a protected right.
Defendants, and each of them, took adverse actions against [Ramirez Peyro] to ensure that his rights were restricted, including, but not limited to, abruptly moving him from one detention center to another, in the middle of the night under heavy guard, and at each detention center immediately placing him in solitary confinement, thereby restricting his interaction with other inmates, the media, his family and his attorney, and all for the purpose of silencing [Ramirez Peyro] as to the events leading up to the House of Death murders, which implicated Defendants and the United States government in a cover-up.
For more information on the House of Death case, check out this link.