Sex, lies and missing tapes in the House of Death

Over the past year or so, a number of print publications in the United States and overseas have picked up on Narco News’ coverage of the House of Death murders in Juarez, Mexico, and the U.S. government’s complicity in those homicides.

The London Observer, the McClatchey newspaper chain’s Washington Bureau, Proceso magazine in Mexico and most recently the Washington Times have all featured exposés on the House of Death that essentially recast news reported initially by Narco News over the past three years.

But preening over who is first or second with the story, in the final analysis, is a shallow exercise that rewards only thirsty egos if the collective voice of these media reports fails to move the needle toward justice. And in the case of the House of Death mass murder, that needle has barely fluttered since it became known that a U.S. government informant, under the watch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, supervised and even participated in the murders of a dozen people between August 2003 and mid-January 2004.

The injustice of those murders is compounded by the fact that high-level officials in both the Justice and Homeland Security departments condoned the informant’s continued participation in the House of Death tragedy after they became aware of the first murder. In addition, officials with those U.S. law enforcement agencies have since conspired to cover-up the government’s complicity in the murders, according to public records and the DEA commander (Sandalio Gonzalez) who blew the whistle on the House of Death.

Still, the U.S. Congress, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, has failed to investigate the House of Death bloodshed, to call out current and former Bush administration officials on their roles in allowing the carnage in Juarez to take place.

Some Narco News sources even allege that the silence of the Congress is by design — part of its acquiescence to a quid pro quo deal struck between the Bush Administration and the Mexican government that includes a bounty of favors across both borders and both sides of the political aisle granted in exchange for mutual silence on the House of Death.

How else can we explain that even though Narco News’ reporting on the House of Death has been fact checked and verified by a chorus of national and international publications (as well as numerous bloggers), still, Congress, to date, continues to react with little more than a yawn?

The quid-pro-quo allegation, admittedly, remains in the realm of speculation, but the Bush Administration’s recently proposed billion-dollar-plus drug-war aid package for Mexico, dubbed Plan Mexico, and Congress’ seeming willingness to embrace that proposal uncritically, certainly does little to put aside such speculation.

Whatever the reservations of Congress in fulfilling their obligations to the citizens of this country, the truth of the House of Death continues to come into view, piece by piece, like a puzzle being assembled on computer screens across the globe via the Internet. In the final analysis, at a time when the political class no longer represents the interests of all the people and often pretends the truth is not seen, it may well be that the Internet is the great equalizer that will be the undoing of this hypocrisy that passes as leadership.

With that hope in mind, Narco News continues to dig, now looking behind the scenes of what was happening in the El Paso, Texas, office of ICE prior to the first murder at the House of Death in August 2003.

And what we have found to date, based on court records and information provided by law enforcement sources, is that the ICE El Paso office was like a Petri dish breeding a virulent strain of dysfunction.

ICE management in El Paso faced allegations of discrimination, retaliation and sexual misconduct; records on investigative and informant files were in disarray — even embellished. And top management officials had been accused of serious violations of agency regulations and even of lying to federal investigators.

Sex and lies

It was in this context that the House of Death informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, was brought on board in 2000 and put under the supervision of ICE El Paso while he was working as a high-level player within a Juarez cell of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes narco-trafficking organization.

The dysfunction that defined the ICE El Paso office is revealed in litigation filed by two ICE employees: Renae Baros, an investigative assistant, and Anita Trujillo, a special agent in El Paso just prior to the House of Death murders. Both Hispanic women accused ICE management of discrimination and retaliation and of fostering a hostile workplace.

Baros, in a lawsuit filed in federal court in El Paso, alleges that she was denied promotions and subjected to frivolous investigations after reporting that her supervisor sexually harassed her in the workplace.

Trujillo’s case is still winding its way through the Equal Employment Opportunity administrative process. What we know of her case, since the EEO records are not public, has surfaced via exhibits filed in the Baros lawsuit.

Both Baros and Trujillo’s legal cases take aim at two ICE El Paso management officials in particular: Curtis Compton and Patricia Kramer. Compton and Kramer were both very involved in the House of Death case, Compton as a group supervisor and Kramer as the No. 2 person in charge of the ICE El Paso office.

Baros’ case went to trial several weeks ago and a jury returned a verdict finding that ICE Associate Special Agent in Charge Kramer did retaliate against her for “her complaint of sexual harassment against a supervisor.”

Among the revelations that surfaced in the Baros litigation are the following:

• Kramer demonstrated a callous indifference to the House of Death murder victims by referring to them as “just Mexicans.”  

• Kramer violated agency rules and regulations related to a criminal investigation and was slated to be fired as a result — prior to agreeing to retire from ICE in the fall of 2005.

• Kramer’s treatment of certain ICE employees led 10 Hispanic females in the ICE El Paso office to file a Congressional complaint that led to an internal investigation of Kramer’s discriminatory practices.

• Compton failed to “timely report” information related to the House of Death case and also, in a separate matter, engaged in violence in the workplace, misused a government vehicle and made “false statements” to government investigators.

•  In addition, an ICE internal affairs supervisor testified under oath that the agency subsequently “re-colored,” or whitewashed, Compton’s disciplinary record, which resulted in him receiving only a one-day suspension.

The Trujillo case points to an even more disturbing pattern of dysfunction within the ICE El Paso office, again related to Compton and Kramer in particular.

Those allegations are revealed in a deposition filed as an exhibit in the Baros case. That deposition (or testimony, link here) was provided by ICE Supervisor Joseph Bosarge, who worked in El Paso between 2000 and 2002.

Bosarge claims in his deposition that Kramer pressured him to improperly deny a promotion to Trujillo.

Bosarge revealed the following in his under-oath deposition:

 

Q: Are you saying Ms. Kramer discriminated against Ms. Trujillo because she’s Hispanic?

Bosarge: I don’t know what reason she [Kramer] discriminated against her [Trujillo], but she surely discriminated against her.

Q. On what basis?

Bosarge: Well, probably because she [Trujillo] had made [discrimination] allegations against Curtis Compton, who is Ms. Kramer’s right-hand man.

Q. So, in order to protect Curtis Compton, she’s [Kramer’s] going to come down on Anita Trujillo?

Bosarge: Absolutely.

Bosarge claims in his deposition that Trujillo had accused Compton of improprieties in his handling of informant files and reports of investigation. Compton, in turn, tried to turn the blame for those problems back on Trujillo.

From the deposition:

 

Bosarge: There was – what I had been told by Ms. Kramer was that, essentially, Anita had lied in an affidavit for a Title III [wiretap], was one of the issues. And I guess her and Mr. Compton worked on that together a lot.

And the other issue I had is that when I was in charge of the informant file, I had done – when I first moved here I did a very thorough inspection, because it hadn’t been done on these file, and I found numerous discrepancies in payments and a lot of stuff that wasn’t documented. One of the issues that I found was an informant file that hadn’t been witnessed by a supervisor that needed to for the amount [of the payment]. And I brought this to the attention of management, and it was another dispute over Curtis’ word against her [Trujillo’s] word on the informant file.

… And then I believe there were other – you know, the scuttlebutt in the office was that they didn’t like each other because Curtis was having affairs with women in the office and Anita was friends with them. I mean, I don’t know. That’s all just hearsay on my part.

… When I showed up in El Paso [in 2000] I would look at [investigative] reports, and a lot of agents were doing, you know, really poor reports. And [the] U.S. Attorney’s Office had made such an issue of our poor report writing that they had come in and brought two U.S. Attorneys in on two occasions to tell them what to do in the reports and how to do sufficient stuff. … Because the reports were horrible.

Bosarge makes it clear in his deposition that ultimately Trujillo was “exonerated” with respect to the charge that she had falsified the Title III affidavit.

Trujillo’s attorney, Mark Conrad, also told Narco News that “Anita Trujillo was cleared of the Title III affidavit allegations.”

“ICE looked at it, and there was nothing to it,” Conrad adds. “It was a false allegation. … The government has in its possession documents that exonerate Anita. Those documents show that she was not responsible for any of the inaccuracy in the [ICE] reports.”

But it appears, according to Bosarge’s testimony, that Kramer was intent on using the unfounded allegations against Trujillo to undermine her credibility with respect to her discrimination claims.

From Bosarge’s deposition:

 

She [Kramer] was saying that Anita wasn’t going to be credible because of her lying on an affidavit. … She just said, “Don’t worry about it, you know, Anita’s – it’s going to come out, whatever’s on Anita.”

Kramer was scheduled to testify at Baros’ trial last month. However, Conrad points out that she failed to appear, and therefore never took the stand under oath to defend her actions before the jury.  

The Baros and Trujillo litigation offers us a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes in the ICE El Paso office when the House of Death informant was enlisted by the agency in 2000 and subsequently used to build a case against a VCF lieutenant in Juarez named Heriberto Santillan Tabares. By mid-January of 2004, at least a dozen people had been tortured, murdered and buried in the backyard of a house in Juarez — with the ICE informant Ramirez playing a key role in arranging those deaths.

ICE officials claim that they had no way of anticipating these murders. The informant Ramirez, however, claims he told his ICE handlers about the murders, often in advance, explaining that ICE had a wire on his phone and listened in on his conversations with Santillan — who ordered the murders.

The informant testified under oath in immigration proceedings (ICE is now seeking to deport him to Mexico) to that very fact:

 

For example, in one occasion in Chicago, and Santillan talks to me, so I could send the boy there to open the house [the House of Death in Juarez] 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.

Missing tapes

The House of Death murders went from the shadows to the daylight on Jan. 14, 2004, when Santillan decided to target a DEA agent and his family for a “carne asada” — a trip to the House of Death.

Prior to stopping the DEA agent and his family on the streets of Juarez on the evening of Jan. 14, Santillan’s goons earlier that day had tortured and murdered three individuals — one of whom allegedly convinced Santillan that the DEA agent was a rival narco-trafficker.

Although the DEA agent was able to narrowly avoid a bloody end for his family with the assistance of a fellow DEA agent, former El Paso DEA Special Agent in Charge Gonzalez claims ICE likely knew on Jan. 13 that Santillan was planning the Jan. 14 carne asada. He contends that had ICE acted then, the three murders and the near assassination of the DEA agent and his family could have been avoided. In fact, Gonzalez alleges that if ICE officials in El Paso had acted to arrest Santillan after the first House of Death murder in August 2003, all of the subsequent murders could have been avoided and the DEA agent and his family would not have been put at risk.

ICE’s claim that its agents could not have anticipated those subsequent murders, that they were not given advance notice by their informant, is highly suspect when weighed against the pattern of alleged deceit and shoddy record keeping revealed in the Bosarge deposition, though.

In that light, information contained in a timeline of events prepared by DEA in the wake of Santillan’s attempt on the DEA agent’s life offers some more disturbing clues to the ICE El Paso pattern of dysfunction.

The DEA timeline reveals that the informant Ramirez was debriefed by ICE and DEA agents on the evening of Jan. 14, immediately after the DEA agent in Juarez narrowly escaped Santillan’s clutches. Kramer was at that debriefing, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden, who was the prosecutor in El Paso assigned to oversee the House of Death investigation. Fielden recounts the debriefing in an affidavit she filed under oath in a separate legal case.

From Fielden’s affidavit:

 

On January 14, 2004, I was called at home by ICE GS Compton who requested that I come to the ICE office because of an incident that had occurred in Juarez, Mexico that day. [That incident was the near assassination of the DEA agent and his family.]

I notified AUSA Leachman and then went to the ICE office where I met with ICE agents, their ASAC Patty Kramer, the Juarez DEA agents and an El Paso DEA Crisis Management Team [assembled to deal with the DEA agent’s encounter with Santillan’s men]. I then sat in on a meeting with these individuals and the CI. This is the first time I had met or spoken to the CI [Ramirez Peyro]. After this meeting I learned general details of some of the murders and burials [at the House of Death].

Interestingly, the DEA timeline reveals that at that debriefing, DEA agents from Juarez were allowed to review “recordings of the 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:45 PM and 6:57 PM conversations” between the informant Ramirez and Santillan.

The DEA timeline notes that in the 8:00 AM conversation (which occurred prior to the House of Death murders that day and the evening traffic stop of the DEA agent and his family) Santillan requested “that the CS [informant] bring the keys and unlock the residence [the House of Death] located at Calle Parsioneros # 3633.”

At the debriefing on the evening of Jan. 14, 2004, according to the DEA timeline, the informant Ramirez revealed that Santillan had told him during that 8:00 AM phone call that he was planning “a carne asada,” which the DEA timeline describes as “a barbecue or cook-out in Spanish,” which was a codeword for “a torture and killing of someone.”

The informant Ramirez also revealed in a statement he provided to the Mexican government that Santillan had discussed the planned murders with him during a conversation on Jan. 13.

From Ramirez' statement:

 

The last execution I know of was on January 13 of this year [2004]. The engineer Santillan [the narco-trafficker at the center of the House of Death investigation] asked me to have the house ready because he was going to have some "grilled meat." Later, at 10:00 in the evening, he told me to hold off but to start early in the morning [Jan. 14]. So then at around 8:00 in the morning he spoke with me and told me to send someone to the house to be waiting, so I sent my buddy Jose Jaime Marquez, who went to open the door of the Parsioneros 3633 house [the House of Death].

Within hours of that 8:00 AM phone conversation, Santillan's men brutally tortured and murdered three men, including an El Paso man, Luis Padilla, who was a U.S. legal resident. And remember, Gonzalez claims Ramirez’ ICE handlers were likely made aware of the planned murders on Jan. 13, as a result of monitoring the informant’s communications with Santillan.

At a minimum, it is clear from the available evidence that ICE had the informant’s phone wired up and recorded the 8:00 AM phone conversation on Jan. 14, 2004, which provided advance warning of the triple murder that occurred later on that day. The DEA timeline states that DEA agents present at the debriefing on the evening of Jan. 14, 2004, “initially reviewed recordings of the 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:45 PM and 5:47 PM conversations” between Ramirez and Santillan.

And again, both Kramer and Fielden were present at this debriefing. Strangely though, the DEA timeline also reveals that the recording of the 8:00 AM phone conversation mysteriously vanished.

From the DEA timeline:

 

Copes of the latter two conversations were obtained from ICE on Saturday January 17th. After repeated requests to obtain copies of the first two [including the tape recording of the 8:00 AM phone conversation] ICE eventually related that those recordings do not exist.

So, evidence that might show ICE officials had advanced warning of the House of Death murders conveniently disappears.

And evidence presented in federal court as part of the Baros and Trujillo cases points to a pattern of sloppy record keeping in ICE El Paso’s informant files and its reports of investigations.

And evidence in those cases points to a pervasive pattern of discrimination, retaliation and deceit — and, just as in the murders at the House of Death, it was Hispanics who were the victims.  

And evidence in those cases reveals that two key players in the House of Death (Kramer and Compton) have been accused of serious violations of agency rules and regulations — even, in the case of Compton, of making false statements to federal agents.

And evidence in those two cases also points to a cover-up, or whitewashing, of ICE’s investigation into the transgressions.

In light of all this evidence, though, Congress has remained silent, refusing to investigate the House of Death and the government’s complicity in torture and mass murder — and are now about to approve the nomination of a new Attorney General who would condone using torture as an interrogation technique. That should tell us all we need to know about the current state of affairs among our political class.

It appears they have become little more than slumlords of the House of Death.  

But Narco News will keep digging and bringing more of the puzzle pieces to your screens. At this point in our history, it appears that is the only form of democracy that offers a glimmer of hope for sustaining truth and justice as values with any force on this planet.

Stay tuned….

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