House of Death informant reveals his story to Narco News

Over the past two years, Narco News has chronicled the story of a U.S. government informant’s role in the House of Death mass murder in Ciudad Juárez.

But, to date, the informant’s version of what went down at the House of Death has not seen the light of day, due in large part to his refusal to speak with the media and the U.S. government’s efforts to assure his silence.

That silence, though, is about to come to an end.

First, however, for those new to this story, or for those who might need a refresher course on the House of Death mass murder, some background is in order.

The back drop

The informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro (also known as “Lalo,” and by the codename Jesus Contreras), is a former Mexican cop who helped to run the House of Death under the direction of a narco-trafficker named Heriberto Santillan-Tabares — who was a top lieutenant in the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) Juárez drug organization.

Another key player in the House of Death murders was Miguel Loya-Gallegos, an associate of Santillan. Loya was a night-shift commander for the Chihuahua State Judicial Police in Juárez. He was charged with overseeing and directing enforcement activities, such as murders, for Santillan and the VCF.

Loya and several of his associates disappeared without a trace in January 2004.

Santillan-Tabares is now sitting in a U.S. prison under a 25-year sentence as part of a plea bargain reached with U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, a deal that took all murder charges against the narco-trafficker off the table.

A number of law enforcement sources contend that plea deal was struck as part of a cover-up designed to conceal the U.S. govern ment’s complicity in the mass murder.

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 Juárez.

The dark murder machine was exposed to the sunlight on January 14, 2004, after a DEA agent and his family in Juárez were nearly abducted by Santillan’s thugs. In the wake of that incident, DEA was forced to evacuate its personnel from Juárez.

Public records show that Ramirez Peyro assisted with at least one of the murders, though law enforcement sources contend the number was likely far greater than one. Those law enforcement sources also contend that Ramirez Peyro was involved in this murderous activity with the knowledge of an Assistant U.S. Attorney in El Paso, Texas, and his handlers -- federal agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Fielden and the informant’s ICE handlers, however, deny they were aware of the informant’s role in the House of Death murders (after the first murder, at any rate), according to court pleadings filed in a lawsuit brought by the families of the House of Death victims.

According to records obtained by Narco News through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Ramirez Peyro “supervised” and had “limited participation” in the first murder at the House of Death in early August 2003.

In February 2004, after becoming aware of the extent of the bloodshed in the case, Sandalio Gonzalez, who was then head of DEA’s operations in El Paso, wrote a memo to Sutton and an ICE official in El Paso to express his outrage at the ICE agents’ complicity in the murders — which ultimately led to the attempt being made on the lives of the DEA agent and his family by narcos connected to the House of Death.

Rather than investigate Gonzalez’ allegations, Sutton used his leverage as a U.S. Attorney to retaliated against him, Gonzalez claims. Gonzalez has since retired from the DEA.

The Assistant U.S. Attorney overseeing the House of Death case, Juanita Fielden, in recently filed court pleadings confirms that high-level officials with the Department of Justice and DHS were made aware of the informant’s role in the first murder at the House of Death in August 2003. But instead of shutting down the operation at that point, those U.S. officials chose to allow Ramirez Peyro to continue his work at the House of Death — which was the site of at least 11 more homicides over the ensuing four months.

The U.S. government is now seeking to deport the informant back to Mexico. In legal pleadings pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, U.S. government attorneys argue that the informant, who was paid some $200,000 for his work, faces no danger in Mexico despite the fact that he betrayed powerful members of the VCF drug organization.

The informant, for his part, contends that he will certainly be tortured and killed at the hands of the narco-traffickers he double-crossed if he is forced to return to Mexico.

In prison

Ramirez Peyro is now sitting in a prison in the upper Midwest awaiting his fate at the hands of the U.S. Justice System. Up until now, Ramirez Peyro has been silent about his version of the events surrounding the House of Death mass murder.

Recently, though, he agreed to provide interviews to the media from jail. Those interviews were scheduled to take place over the weekend of Oct. 7 and 8, 2006.

However, on Oct. 6 — the Friday before the media was slated to arrive — ICE officials suddenly moved Ramirez Peyro to a different prison. As part of that move, the informant’s access to the media was cut off, according to his attorney, Jodi Goodwin.

Though Narco News did not send a reporter to the jail, we did submit a list of written questions to Ramirez Peyro prior to his abrupt relocation. The informant answered those questions and provided the responses to Goodwin, who recently passed them along to Narco News. Other media folks did make the jailhouse trip over this past weekend, but were unable to interview the informant in person. However, with Goodwin’s help, they did manage to get some of their questions answered in writing as well — so expect to see more coverage on this matter in the mainstream press in the coming days.

The interview

(Readers, please keep in mind that the informant’s responses have to be viewed in the context of his current situation. For example, Ramirez Peyro is likely to answer questions in a way that puts him and his activities in the best light and to assure that he does not jeopardize his ongoing immigration case. In addition, Ramirez Peyro’s attorney did translate his responses from Spanish to English and did have the opportunity to review those responses before passing them along to Narco News.

Where appropriate, Narco News has provided additional context [denoted in italics and brackets] that seems to contradict some of the informant’s answers. That additional context is drawn from law enforcement sources and public documents as noted. For a complete run-down of Narco News’ coverage of this case to date, including links to hundreds of pages of public records, visit the House of Death link on the Narco News site.)

 

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Mr. Conroy:

Thank you for your interest in my version of the facts which, believe me, is the only correct version given that I was the only person that saw the facts and recorded the majority and authorized that my different methods of communication be intercepted so as not to give any footing to doubts with my superiors in ICE or any other government agency.

I am sorry that you were unable to come to see me as I would have liked to speak with you face to face to explain a bit more detail my work with ICE and so that you could discover the grave error that you have made in speaking of me in the manner which I have been told you have based on the opinions of people whose sole purpose is to discredit me.

I have not had the opportunity to read all of your articles due to my precarious situation, but I have read the headlines that you attached with your story pitch and I am very much interested in the reaction the government has had to your coverage.

Following are my answers to your questions. Truthfully, I do not know what are you intentions with this interview but I would like to read whatever you publish from the interview and if you would like, we could get into further detail.
Thank You and God Bless,

NARCO NEWS: What led you to get into the narco-trafficking business? When and how did you first get involved?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: So as not to risk further lives and to not give a course on how to infiltrate a drug trafficking organization, I am not going to answer this question.

NARCO NEWS: Prior to being exposed as a cooperating witness [an informant] for the U.S. government, how would you describe your position within the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization and your relationship to Heriberto Santillan-Tabares? Did you have any direct dealings with Vicente Carrillo Fuentes?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: My position was very clear. I was there to obtain information and evidence of the crimes that occurred in Mexico as well as the United States. I worked for the Office of Investigations of the U.S. Customs Service that later changed to BICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. My relationship with Santillan from 2001 was very diverse. No, I never had contact with Mr. Vicente.

NARCO NEWS: Why did you decide to become a cooperating witness for the U.S. government? When and how did you make that move?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Based on an article that I read in a newspaper dealing with the fact that the CIA was contracting foreigners, I went to the International Bridge and asked for information about that program. There, I met Special Agent Raul Bencomo of the OIUSCS [Office of Investigations of the U.S. Customs Service]. He told me that he did not know anything about the CIA program but that he could use me as an informant. Then after a long process of about two months over which we had various meetings principally to clarify that I did not have a criminal record, any arrest warrants or other problems with the law in Mexico or in the U.S.

What were my motives to work with USCS: Basically it was my vocation, police work, and I wanted to be better at it. They went through the process to get me a permit to enter the U.S. given that I did not have anything to use to cross into the U.S. And then about 6 months later, after seeing the quality of my cases, they had to ask for permission from Washington to authorize me as an operative informant. Also, I was ordered to go to the U.S. Consulate to request to see the Consul so that I could tell him that I was sent by someone from the Department of State so that I could be given a visa as it was no longer convenient for me to be using the permit to cross the border.

[According to a legal affidavit filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden, Ramirez Peyro was caught smuggling drugs across the U.S. border about a month prior to the first murder at the House of Death on Aug. 5, 2003.

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. ICE officials, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, decided to continue using the informant, however, in order to make a drug case against the VCF organization. The drug charges against Ramirez Peyro were later dropped at the request of Fielden.]

NARCO NEWS: What was your role in the operations of the house at Calle Parsioneros 3633, [the House of Death] where at least 12 bodies were dug up out of the backyard? For how many of the murders at the house were you actually present? Please provide some detail.

RAMIREZ PEYRO: My role in the house on Parsioneros was the same that I had been doing since 2000: make myself pass off as a criminal and infiltrate different criminal organizations to obtain information and evidence of their activities. I was witness on two occasions that agents of the Judicial Police killed people at that place.

[A gravedigger who assisted Ramirez Peyro at the House of Death confirmed that the informant was physically present for at least five of the murders, according to timeline of events developed by the DEA in the days immediately following the evacuation of its personnel from Juárez.

In addition, Ramirez Peyro provided a statement to the Mexican government in February 2004 that details far more murders in Juárez that he either was aware of or helped to set up or clean up — including murders at the House of Death.]

NARCO NEWS: How many of the murders at Parsioneros 3633 were recorded through a wire or on tape at the direction of or with the knowledge of ICE officials? Were you ever asked to record anyone in the U.S. or other agents? Were you ever asked by ICE agents to leave your cell phone on so that they could monitor the activities at Parsioneros 3633? Please provide details.

RAMIREZ PEYRO: No murder was recorded at the instruction of the ICE officials because we did not know in advance that a murder would be committed. I made it a habit to record my interviews with the criminals to obtain evidence and to show that my actions were as transparent as possible. And yes, in the U.S. they recorded my interviews and telephone conversations in whatever way they could. No, they never asked me to do such thing.

[It 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 Ramirez Peyro 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.

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.]

NARCO NEWS: Were there other similar operations in that neighborhood, or in the Juárez area in general, that you were involved with or had knowledge of? If so, could you provide some details on those operations?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: From 2001 which was when they gave me the authorization to infiltrate the VCFO [Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization], I reported various incidents similar to this, and I stated unconditionally the highest of risk that I was running given that this organization and its members do not hesitate to kill and they laugh at their murders.

NARCO NEWS: Were ICE agents aware of the fact that people were being tortured and murdered at Parsioneros 3633?  If so, did they encourage you to continue your undercover involvement in those activities? If they were aware, how many murders did they allow to occur after they had that knowledge?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: As soon as I had the opportunity, which was about two hours after the death of [the first House of Death murder victim, Mexican lawyer Fernando] Reyes, I met in the regional offices of BICE (which was where we normally met) with my control agent and other special agents, supervisors of the group, the head of the supervisors and agents of the Sheriff and I told them all about the situation and got them up to speed and I turned over to them the recording of the events.

After several hours of work and making the RAC [Resident Agent in Charge] aware and he communicating with Washington and Mexico, I was ordered to continue my work on the case and to comply with the instructions that Santillan gave me for that night and then to return to the BICE office when I finished, which was in the early hours of the morning.

[After Ramírez Peyro’s U.S. government handlers debriefed him about the first murder, they allowed him to return to the House of Death to pay a gravedigger $2,000 for burying the body, according to the DEA’s timeline of events.]

NARCO NEWS: Which U.S. officials from ICE, DEA or the U.S. Attorney’s Office did you report your activities to during the time period that the murders at 3633 Parsioneros took place (early August 2003 to mid-January 2004)? Specifically, whom did you report to when you returned to El Paso from your many trips to Juarez during that time period? Which of those people had knowledge of the murders, yet allowed them to continue? (Please provide names.)

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I don’t want to name the agents and put them in danger. I will tell you that I was in contact with two anti-narcotic groups and one anti-fraud group as well as ICE Intelligence, DEA Juarez agents, the ones that were involved in the incident on January 14, 2004, and people from the Sheriff’s office.

NARCO NEWS: Are you aware of any officials with ICE or the U.S. Attorney's office destroying or altering reports or evidence? Did any U.S. government officials ever instruct you to lie or pay you money to encourage your silence with respect to their actions related to the 3633 Parsioneros murders? (Please provide details and names.)

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I never knew of anyone destroying evidence and no one ever offered me money for my silence with respect to the house on Parsioneros.

NARCO NEWS: Are you aware of an ICE official ever making a payment to you by using a dead cooperating witnesses’ source number? (This would have been evident in that the source payment receipt, SF 293, for such a payment would have utilized a CI number other than the one assigned to you.) If you can confirm this, please you provide details on why it was done, who did it and what explanation, if any, was provided to you?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I never received a payment that was not in the name that I used for this purposes, on the other hand, there are many cases that I have never been paid for my work.

[Law enforcement sources told Narco News that allegedly one high-level ICE supervisor in El Paso, sometime between March and June of 2004, did put a payment through to Ramirez Peyro using a dead informant’s “source number,” which is a number assigned to all confidential sources in order to keep their identity secret. The sources claim the payment was made that way in an effort to conceal that the money was being paid to Ramirez Peyro.]

NARCO NEWS: Did any U.S. law enforcement officials ever visit the house at Parsioneros 3633 prior to the time the DEA agent and his family were stopped by the police on Jan. 14, 2004? If so, who and when and under what circumstances?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: No.

NARCO NEWS: When the Mexican police stopped the DEA agent and his family on Jan. 14, 2004, were they aware ahead of time that he might, in fact, be a DEA agent? How would you describe the relationship between Santillan, Mexican State Police Commander Miguel Loya and the Mexican police who carried out that traffic stop? Did anyone at ICE or the U.S. Attorney's office have prior knowledge that the DEA agent and his family were going to be targeted?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: No, the police didn’t know who was involved. In fact, this was the reason for his detention so that he could be identified and I understand that he said he was a member of the Diplomatic Corp of the U.S. The relation of Miguel Loya, Santillan and the police that detained the DEA is simple and stated to be as accomplices. No, no one knew about the situations with the DEA. In fact ICE and the U.S. Attorneys Office came to be aware of it through me as I was asked to investigate the names of the agents to find out really and truly who they were.

NARCO NEWS: After the incident on January 14, 2004, when the police stopped the DEA agent and his family, were you willing to meet with DEA agents and Mexican authorities to help with their investigation? If so, why didn’t you meet with them?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Of course I was willing to help with the investigation. I even met with the DEA agents, principally the two implicated in this matter.

[One of the individuals allegedly behind the traffic stop of the DEA agent and his family, Mexican police commander Miguel Loya, disappeared in January 2004 after DEA officials were unsuccessful in trying to arrange a meeting between him and Ramirez Peyro. The purpose of arranging that meeting was to create an opportunity for Mexican federal agents to swoop in and arrest Loya. ICE officials in El Paso jammed up the effort and would not let the Ramirez Peyro arrange the meeting out of fear it would compromise the informant, according to the DEA’s timeline of events prepared in the wake of the House of Death murders.]

NARCO NEWS: U.S. officials frequently imply that all the drug war corruption along the border is among Mexican law enforcement agents. Have you seen or heard evidence of complicity by U.S. officials, particularly higher-level officials, in allowing drugs or other contraband to cross the border?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Yes, regrettably, corruption exists in the U.S. also. I heard of several cases and was able to close one of them out.

NARCO NEWS: How does a shipment of cocaine or other contraband enter the U.S.? Could you elaborate on that?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: There are many ways to bring drugs and other things in the U.S. but I am not going to mention those here as that is not the purposes of this interview.

NARCO NEWS: In your mind, will the 700-mile wall approved recently by the U.S. House, if actually built, stop or slow the flow of illegal drugs?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Slow up a bit maybe, but not stop.

NARCO NEWS: What can you tell us about how illicit proceeds are "laundered" to make the money appear "clean"? And which sectors make the profits off of that? Are they the "cartels" (as U.S. law enforcement agencies call them)? Or are "respected" bankers and businessmen also involved?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I am not going to talk about this.

NARCO NEWS: In your mind, why do you think no one at ICE or the U.S. Attorney's office has been held accountable for their actions, or lack of actions, in the Parsioneros 3633 murders? Do you believe there is an ongoing cover-up of the U.S. government's complicity in these murders? Do you have any first-hand knowledge of the details of that cover-up (please elaborate)?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I am not familiar with the basis or foundation of the law, but I did trust and confide that the agents and members of the other federal agencies that were directing the operations did so in the manner that they should and that to me was obviously the right thing to do, but now I know that it was not like that at all. I do not believe that the government of the U.S. is an accomplice to the events at Parsioneros [the House of Death].

NARCO NEWS: Why do you think the U.S. government is now trying to send you back to Mexico, where you almost certainly will face retribution from the VCF organization?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: I believe that the cowardice attitude of the U.S. government is the work of corrupt elements that are not in agreement with the disruptive effect that we had on the VCFO and they want to turn me over to them so that I will be executed and then they can wipe their hands clean.

NARCO NEWS: Are you aware of any involvement on the part of “legitimate” businessmen, politicians, narco-traffickers or Mexican law enforcement (particularly Mexican State Police Commander Miguel Loya and his men) in the continuing murders of women (the femicides) in Juarez?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: No.

NARCO NEWS: What was Miguel Loya's role in the Parsioneros 3633 operation? Do you believe ICE and the U.S. Attorney's Office purposely allowed Miguel Loya to escape? If so, why?  If not, why do you think they undermined DEA's and the Mexican government's efforts to enlist your help in pursuing Loya after the DEA agent and his family were targeted by Santillan's men?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: The role of Miguel Loya was that of murderer. I don’t believe that ICE or the U.S. Attorneys office permitted this. However, honestly, since the 15 of January of 2004, I do not have idea how things were handled. And it is my opinion that the sad part of the whole thing is that instead of standing together, the various agencies of the U.S. government worry themselves with criticizing each other and fighting amongst themselves like a bunch of old women from the neighborhood.

And by this infighting they caused the loss of many years of work, human resources. And instead of using the information to benefit the public, it all ends up benefiting the criminal organizations.

NARCO NEWS: Do you know what happened to Commander Loya and others involved in the Parsioneros 3633 operation who got away?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: No, I don’t know.

NARCO NEWS: What is it that you regret most about your involvement in the narco-trafficking world and as a cooperating witness for the U.S. government? Is there anything that you are proud of in terms of that work?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: What I most regret is that lives were lost and probably more lives will be lost. After the closure of the investigation because of the fighting between the different federal agencies, the information leaks, and the bad faith with which they distorted the facts.

Despite all of the lies that have published about me, I am the only one that ever saw all of the processing of the different cases I worked on. Given that the agents only listened, they would never go with me, I am relieved by the satisfaction that God helped me through each difficult moment, which were many, and He permitted that tons and tons of drugs not make it into the hands of the addicts, and that many criminals had their operations truncated.

NARCO NEWS: Did officials with ICE or the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever promise you that your immigration status would be upgraded so that you could stay in the U.S. in exchange for your assistance as a cooperating witness? Did officials with ICE or the U.S. Attorney’s office ever coerce you in any way — such as threatening to send you or your family back to Mexico to assure your continued cooperation? Please elaborate.

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Yes, the ICE officials and the U.S. Attorneys promised me permanent residence in the U.S. and the same for the ones I needed. The cases would close in a manner most convenient to ICE, and more dangerous for me.

The only time that the government threatened me with deporting my family wasn’t in order to assure my cooperation as a witness, because I had always done whatever they asked me to with respect to the investigations.

No, they threatened my family with deportation unless I agreed to be put in jail and also because according to them they feared for my life. Curiously, 8 months later they are saying the want to deport me to a sure death, that situation up to now, I am still fighting.

NARCO NEWS: What is it that you want out of this whole mess at this time? In other words, what would you consider a just resolution of your fate?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: That ICE follow-through with each promise made to me just as I complied with them.

NARCO NEWS: What else would you like to convey to the readers about your situation that has not been addressed to date?

RAMIREZ PEYRO: Principally that I am not a murderer, that the FBI and the police of El Paso have questioned me with respect to this and even gave me a polygraph test to prove that I did not murder anyone nor did I order the murder of anyone. That unfortunately in order to infiltrate a criminal organization that is one of the most powerful and dangerous, I had to witness the death of three people. Without being able to do anything other than what I did given that it was the Mexican authorities that did the killing. I was absolutely alone and the only thing I could do was to get evidence to stop the situation through the U.S. authorities. And that I also was able to uncover evidence for other murders as well even though I was not present and not only at Parsioneros.

In the four years that I worked for ICE making myself off to be a mafioso I was able to infiltrate various criminal organizations and obtained evidence needed so that those involved could be arrested. But all I could do was obtain evidence, I was not able to arrest, prosecute, or judge anyone. That was the job of the agencies that I worked for.

Thanks to God, we never caused the death of anyone during the four years that I worked as an informant. On multiple occasions agents almost blew my cover placing the lives of everyone involved in danger.

That the people who were buried at Parsioneros and others died because of different reasons, but all had to do with the criminal activity they were involved with, very apart from me and ICE, with or against the cartel.

[Although many of the individuals killed at the House of Death were likely connected to narco-trafficking, at least one person, a 29-year-old U.S. legal resident and father of three, appears to have been picked up by the House of Death hit squad by mistake, according to a civil lawsuit filed by victim’s family]

That it has been said that there are investigations into the house at Parsioneros street but curiously, no one, not one of these investigators has ever talked to me, to the contrary ICE is trying to deport me to a sure death not necessarily to cover up the fact that they don’t care about the lives lost but rather to confirm that theory: they DON’t care about the lives lost and that is something even darker than we know within the US government.

Lastly, I want to add that the people who have commented with the reporters, the reporters and the lawsuit that was filed by the Attorney Loya [the lawyer for the families of the House of Death victims] have all been based on lies by people that were NOT present and do not know what and how things happened and these same people have misinformed the public totally and I am ready and willing to clear the air with respect to this situation. Thanks.

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