Another murder is linked to the House of Death case

Narco News published a major exposé in late April (called The House of Death) that revealed an informant for the U.S. government was implicated in a series of murders in Ciudad Juárez -- located just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Between August 2003 and mid-January 2004, about a dozen people were tortured, murdered and then buried in the yard of a house in the Mexican border town. The informant, according to sources, participated in many of those murders.

The informant’s handlers, agents with the El Paso office of the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were allegedly fully aware of the informant’s complicity in the murders, yet did nothing to stop the killing for fear of jeopardizing the cases that they were trying to make with the informant’s help.

The informant, who goes by the nickname Lalo, worked for a drug trafficker named Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, who, U.S. prosecutors allege, is a top lieutenant in Vicente Carrillo Fuentes’ Juárez drug organization.

Now it appears Lalo’s shadow is over yet another murder, this time on the U.S. side of the border. The Dallas Morning News (registration required) recently reported the following startling news concerning the informant:

It sounded like a simple job: Drive to a Whataburger in a borrowed Lincoln Navigator, park next to the telephone booth, and wait for a man with a bag stuffed with money. Instead, Abraham Guzman got four bullets in the face and chest and died instantly.

Mr. Guzman, manager of an oil-change store and a new father, faced financial pressures. Police have released few details about the killing but are looking into possible connections with Mexican organized crime.

However, three U.S. law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Dallas Morning News that the bullets that felled Mr. Guzman last week were meant for someone else – a man known as "Lalo" who had provided information on the cartel as a paid informant for a U.S. agency.

Lalo was an acquaintance who asked Mr. Guzman to pick up the cash, sources said. Lalo also worked as an informant for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, already at the center of a controversy over its role in his previous alleged criminal activity.

Until recently, Lalo was living in San Antonio, Texas, under ICE protection, according the Dallas Morning News. ICE agents allegedly escorted him to El Paso a few days before the recent murder for some unknown reason, the daily newspaper reports.

However, Narco News sources contend that it is still unclear if Lalo was escorted by ICE agents or decided to make the trip to El Paso on his own to pick up what they said was dope money.

One source said it is possible Lalo was taken to El Paso to be interrogated by local police as part of their investigation into the house of death murders. Although most of those killed at the house in Juárez were allegedly Mexican drug dealers, one individual was a U.S. citizen – “some kid from Socorro, Texas, just south of El Paso,” says another law enforcement source.

Still another source indicated that Lalo may still be active as an informant for the government. One thing is clear, according to law enforcement officials interviewed by Narco News, there is a lot of disinformation being floated about how everything went down in the murder.

The bottom line, though, is that Lalo must have known he was a marked man in El Paso. It could be argued that, in addition to the drug dealers, even certain ICE officials might not mind waking up to find Lalo out of the picture, permanently.

That’s why Lalo asked Guzman to do the money run for him (in Lalo’s vehicle), according to law enforcement sources. Lalo also asked his girlfriend to accompany Guzman to the drop site in a separate vehicle.

"Apparently, Lalo was in El Paso to get dope money," explains one law enforcer, who is describing the girlfriend's version of events. "He was afraid, so he asked his friend (Guzman) to do the pick up.

“... The girlfriend is following Guzman and sees him park the SUV at the Whataburger. She then drives around the building to face him. By the time she gets around, Guzman has already been shot four times.”

From the Dallas Morning News story:

… It appears that Lalo on his own contacted Mr. Guzman and a female friend and asked them for a favor. Cash was owed to him from drug deals or from property that his attorney had sold on his behalf, sources said.

But law enforcement officials said that even bringing the informant to Juárez was dangerous.

"Why was the informant in El Paso in the first place?" another senior U.S. law enforcement agent asked. "There is no sense for this guy, who is clearly a target of the cartel, to be here, on his own. The cartel wants to do him in, whack him in the worst way."

This time, the narco-traffickers “whacked” the wrong man. Guzman took the hit for Lalo, adding yet another name to the body count already run up by the activities of this government informant.

The Dallas Morning News story continues:

For Mr. Guzman, the opportunity to make some quick money was probably attractive. Married for two years, Mr. Guzman, 27, was the father of a 2-week-old boy. In just minutes, law enforcement officials said, he could make perhaps a few hundred dollars to supplement his income as a manager at Lube and Go.

On Aug. 25, he drove to the rendezvous point in a borrowed black Navigator. He was accompanied by a female friend of Lalo's who was there as a witness to account for the cash.

Minutes after 11 p.m., a man in a mid-1990s Ford Bronco pulled up and asked, "Lalo?" When Mr. Guzman answered, he was shot at least four times in the face and chest. The gunman fled.

This last point raises an interesting question about the facts of the murder. If the information provided to Narco News by law enforcement sources is correct, that the girlfriend found Guzman already pumped full of lead by the time she drove around the Whataburger building, then how do investigators know what the assassin asked Guzman before he shot him? Was there another witness, or are we dealing with yet another layer of disinformation?

More from the Dallas Morning News:

The woman was unhurt and immediately called an ICE agent, who arrived at the scene and whisked her to a hotel, sources close to the investigation said.

For days afterward, Lalo and his female friend stayed in separate hotels as ICE agents provided round-the-clock surveillance, worried that cartel leaders, upon learning that the wrong man was killed, would try again, the sources said. Lalo has since been moved to another location, they said.

Regardless of how all the facts finally sort out, the sad truth is that this whole sordid affair is just another tragic act in the ongoing war on drugs along the border, a war where the price of winning a battle is often measured in corpses. In this case, the federal ICE agents were willing to look the other way as their own informant participated in torture and multiple murders -- all so these agents could line up convictions to help juice their careers.

And in order to prevent those same ICE agents from claiming victory in this bloody skirmish, it appears the narco-traffickers attempted to strike back at the informant, the key witness against them. In the process, they cut down the wrong man – the father of a two-week old kid.

What happens to that child now; how do we explain to him the virtue of this so-called war on drugs?

All this could have been prevented if the informant had been kept under control from the start, if the ICE agents running Lalo would have put people’s lives before their careers. But that’s not how it went down, not in this war, not along this border.

How many more lives have to be wasted before the people running this game wise up and start thinking seriously about reducing the harm?

“Now this informant got another guy killed. This time on this side of the border (in El Paso),” said one honest law enforcer who is disgusted with how ICE has run Lalo as an informant. “You have to wonder who’s running who in this case.”

User login


About Bill Conroy