Mexican cop, now in El Paso hospital, is a marked man

Mexican state police commander Fernando Lozano Sandoval is currently recovering from multiple gunshot wounds inflicted after gunmen ambushed his SUV on a boulevard in Ciudad Juárez on Monday evening. Jan. 21.

Lozano was one of three Mexican cops gunned down during a bloody shooting spree over the course of Jan. 20 and 21 in Juárez. The other two cops, who were municipal police officers, were not so lucky. They are both dead.

But Lozano is not receiving the critical medical attention he needs in a Juárez hospital. He is, in fact, under the care of physicians and nurses at El Paso’s Thomason Hospital, which is now under the armed protection of U.S. law enforcement officers.

The extreme security at Thomason has created a backlash in the Texas community of El Paso, located just across the Rio Grande from Juárez. Press reports indicate that El Paso residents are concerned about the safety of their community due to the Lozano’s presence, fearing that their city has now been thrust into the front lines of Mexico’s bloody narco-trafficking turf war.  

If that is the case, it may well be officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that have put El Paso in that position. ICE sources tell Narco News that Lozano is an ICE informant who was marked for assassination because narco-traffickers in Juárez believe he tipped off U.S. law enforcers to the location of a stash house in the El Paso area that contained more than five tons of marijuana. El Paso ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa, when asked about the Lozano case, said, “There are many aspects of this that I am not at liberty to discuss.”

The El Paso Times also reported that “law enforcement officials would not discuss details of the lockdown for security reasons or whether Lozano was cooperating with U.S. authorities.”

Likewise, a local El Paso TV station reported that the head of the El Paso Police Department is concerned that Lozano is in some way connected to drug-trafficking organizations in Juárez.

From a Jan. 24 report by KVIA-TV in El Paso:

 

Because of the implication of drug trafficking involvement, there was uncertainty as to the type of relationship Lozano might have with the cartels.

"I don't know if it was a positive or negative involvement relationship, but it required us to have some type of response to make sure if he were to be attacked at the hospital, citizens of the community wouldn't be injured as well," [Interim El Paso police chief Gregory] Allen said.

 

ICE sources, who spoke with Narco News under the condition that their names not be used, indicate that Lozano was not a normal informant. He is a U.S. citizen with dual citizenship in Mexico who just happens to work as a Mexican state police commander. In addition, they claim he was not officially documented as an ICE informant, as the agency’s rules require, and his relationship with ICE was not through a special agent, as agency rules require, but rather he worked directly for an ICE supervisor in El Paso.

This “off-the-books” informant relationship, assuming the ICE sources are on the mark, would go a long way toward explaining why Lozano ended up in an El Paso’s publicly owned county hospital and is now under the watch of heavily armed law enforcers from the El Paso Police Department, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and ICE.

Bungled operation

Mexican state police commander Lozano was in his Jeep Cherokee on a street in Juárez when he was attacked on the evening of Jan. 21 by the occupants of two vehicles — who unloaded some 50 rounds into the Jeep. Lozano was hit several times while returning fire, according to press accounts, and then, after the assailants had fled, he allegedly managed to stop another car, whose driver transported him to a hospital in Juárez.

While at the Juárez hospital, Lozano was under the protection of the Mexican military, which posted guards at the facility, press reports say. However, it is from this point that the official version of events departs from information supplied to Narco News by ICE sources.

The official line, according to ICE’s Zamarripa, is as follows:

 

ICE was asked by the Chihuahua State Police to assist in coordinating and to help facilitate the crossing of Chihuahua state police commander Fernando Lozano Sandoval from Mexico into the United States. Lozano is a U.S. citizen who required medical attention and ICE assisted with his entry into the United States.

 

However, ICE sources claim the official version leaves out several key facts. They claim that it was Lozano’s ICE handler, a supervisor in the El Paso field office, who coordinated Lozano’s transfer from the Juárez hospital to El Paso’s Thomason Hospital, and that he did so without getting the required approvals through the ICE chain of command.

The fact that ICE officially confirms that it was the Chihuahua state police who reached out to ICE for the assistance does not preclude that it was Lozano himself who made the contact — since Lozano is a commander with the Chihuahua State Investigations Agency. Some press reports indicate that it was Lozano’s family who requested the hospital transfer through the Chihuahua state police.

A statement released by Thomason Hospital makes it clear that the hospital itself did not initiate the chain of events that led to Lozano’s move to El Paso.

From the hospital’s press statement:

 

On the night of Tuesday, January 22, 2008, an El Paso EMS ambulance arrived at Thomason Hospital carrying a patient who had been critically injured. As is required by federal law of all U.S. hospitals, medical personnel began immediate treatment of the patient.

… Thomason did not accept the patient in transfer. The decision to transport the patient to Thomason Hospital was made by the first responders who were dispatched to the international bridge following a 911 call.

 

That hospital statement conforms with what ICE sources told Narco News. They claim the ICE supervisor, who operated Lozano as an informant, made the calls to arrange Lozano’s transfer to Thomason Hospital. If ICE was officially acting in coordination with the Mexican state police to transfer Lozano, then why would they place a 911 call as opposed to coordinating directly with Thomason Hospital?

Why the ICE supervisor allegedly acted on his own to arrange Lozano’s move to El Paso remains a mystery. ICE sources point out that Lozano clearly was at great risk in Juárez and they speculate that he also likely possessed information that could compromise ongoing ICE investigations, personnel or his “off-the-books” status as a U.S. government informant — any of which might give him some leverage over the ICE supervisor.

Thomason Hospital spokeswoman Margaret Althoff-Olivas told Narco News that after the 911 call came in, an “El Paso EMS ambulance” was dispatched to one of El Paso’s international bridges (she could not say which one) where it met up with an ambulance from Juárez that was transporting Lozano.

“Local El Paso police were asked by federal officials [ICE] to provide assistance at the bridge with the patient’s (Lozano’s) arrival in the U.S.,” Althoff-Olivas says. “The EMS first responders assessed the patient and determined that he needed treatment at a Level 1 trauma care facility.”

Thomason Hospital is the only Level 1 facility in the El Paso area.

Althoff-Olivas says that El Paso police arrived at the hospital with Lozano, but then left, since their assignment was completed. Simultaneous to that, she says, federal law enforcers (ICE) arrived at the hospital — which leaves open the possibility that those ICE agents were notified of Lozano’s transport to the hospital after the El Paso police were contacted.

ICE sources allege that it was the ICE supervisor who coordinated the 911 call and the call to the local El Paso police — again, without clearing it first with the ICE Special Agent in Charge in El Paso. However, the ICE sources claim that ICE leadership in El Paso is now covering the tracks of that ICE supervisor. If Lozano was operating as an undocumented informant and ICE cases are at stake, then ICE leadership might well be inclined to keep the whole affair quiet to avoid further public scrutiny, law enforcement sources point out.

Whatever went down on that night, multiple sources have told Narco News that the “feds” clearly bungled the operation, including the security, which put the hospital in a dangerous spot, since it now has a man marked for assassination on the premises.

Press accounts of the incident back up the alleged bungled nature of Lozano’s transfer to El Paso.

KDBC 4 News TV in El Paso reported the following on Thursday, Jan. 24:

 

For the past few days the hospital has been put on lockdown, with El Paso Police Officers and Sheriff's Deputies guarding the doors outside. However, El Paso Interim Police Chief, Greg Allen, said the Sheriff's Office "dropped the ball." He said Thomason Hospital staff called the police to guard the hospital even though it's a county facility

"The point of this could have been handled better in my view," said Allen. "We can't be expected to pick up the ball when high level activities like this are done." [emphasis added]

 

Local press reports also make clear that the security detail was not put in place until Wednesday, the day after Lozano arrived at Thomason Hospital. That means even the ICE agents that arrived at the hospital at the same time as Lozano on Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, didn’t stick around the whole night.

ICE sources point out that if this was a properly run operation, then ICE should have assured security was in place on the first night of Lozano’s arrival at the El Paso hospital, for the protection of their informant and El Paso citizens. The fact that hospital officials had to make the calls to arrange that security is evidence, the ICE sources claim, that ICE command in El Paso was not clued into Lozano’s alleged status as an informant.

However, ICE spokeswoman Zamarripa confirms that ICE is now working closely with the El Paso Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office “in providing security at the hospital.”

“The Sheriff’s office has the lead in the case,” she says. “ICE is in a support role to the Sheriff’s office.”

Narco News sources also confirm that ICE agents are on-site at Thomason Hospital in a security role.

Attorney Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs, which has since become part of ICE, says the fact that ICE is now involved in providing security at the hospital indicates Lozano is connected to ICE in some way.

“With the shortage of ICE agents now on the southern border, why would ICE send agents there [to the hospital]?” he says. “There is a reason for it, but we don’t know what that is.”

In a high-profile case like this, involving a foreign country, it also would seem prudent for ICE to coordinate Lozano’s transfer with other U.S. offices that have a major presence in Juárez, including the U.S. Consulate as well as DEA. However, that does not appear to have happened, which seems to lend more credence to the claim that Lozano’s transfer from the Juárez hospital was not properly coordinated through the ICE chain of command.

Carlos Mitchem, a spokesman for DEA’s office in Mexico City, told Narco News he is not aware of any involvement his office, or the DEA office in Juárez, had in the Lozano case. Likewise, Mathew Taylor, spokesman for DEA’s El Paso office, says, “We were not involved in it.”

Silvio Gonzalez, public affairs officer for the U.S. Consulate General office in Juárez, also told Narco News that he is not aware of any involvement by the Consulate in assisting with the transportation of Lozano from Juárez to El Paso.

“[The ICE supervisor] was trying to keep the fact that Lozano was an informant secret, but after he was shot, he knew he had to do something because the [drug] cartel was going to try to finish him off,” one ICE source alleges. “Most people inside ICE [in El Paso] didn’t even know this was going on. Because Lozano was not documented [as an informant], he [the ICE supervisor] didn’t follow the rules.”

Snitch fingered

Lozano’s ambush in Juárez stems from the discovery of more than five tons of marijuana in late December of last year at a warehouse in Horizon City, which is located about 17 miles east of El Paso along the Texas/Mexico border, ICE sources claim.

The drug bust, which received scant media attention at the time, was carried out by ICE, with some assistance from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and resulted in the arrest of four people linked to the warehouse, according to court records and an ICE press release.

From the ICE press release:

 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents here on Wednesday seized 10,907 lbs. (almost 5½ tons) of marijuana discovered in a vehicle and a warehouse. The warehouse may have been a major stash house for a Juárez drug cartel.

… The investigation revealed the marijuana was scheduled to be shipped to cities such as Chicago and New York, where it would have had a street value of about $8 million.

"ICE took down a cartel's main stash house," said David F. Fry, acting special agent in charge for ICE's Office of Investigations in El Paso. "This was a significant seizure that dealt a strong blow to a major criminal enterprise. …

 

The four individuals arrested on the day of the warehouse raid are now pending trial in U.S. District Court in El Paso, which is under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio, Texas.

According to the complaint filed in that case against the defendants, ICE had set up surveillance on the warehouse prior to the drug raid. However, the complaint does not indicate how ICE was tipped off to the warehouse in the first place.

ICE sources claim Lozano was the source of that information — and that is apparently what the narco-traffickers who controlled the warehouse believed as well. ICE sources tell Narco News that is why the hit was placed on Lozano as well as the two Juárez municipal cops killed just prior to Lozano being ambushed.

Assuming the allegations being made by these ICE sources are accurate, it would not be the first time that the ICE El Paso office was involved in informant-related shenanigans.

Between August 2003 and mid-January 2004, a dozen people were tortured and murdered in Juárez, and then buried in the ground behind a home that has since been dubbed the House of Death. Those murders were carried out with the help of an ICE informant (a former Mexican cop) who was a high-ranking member of a Juárez-based narco-trafficking cell.

ICE supervisors as well as a U.S. prosecutor in El Paso were aware of the informant’s participation in the first murder at the House of Death, yet continued to utilize the informant, resulting in at least 11 additional murders.

After a DEA Special Agent in Charge in El Paso blew the whistle on ICE’s involvement in the House of Death murders, that DEA commander, Sandalio Gonzalez, was retaliated against and a cover-up orchestrated by high-level officials within ICE as well as the Department of Justice at the urging of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, according to court records in Gonzalez’ successful federal discrimination case against the U.S. government.  

In the case of Lozano, if he was serving as an ICE informant, then agency rules seem to dictate that he should have been properly documented. ICE sources indicate that a possible reason Lozano was not documented was to assure there was no paper trail that might somehow leak out through law enforcement channels and jeopardize his position in Mexico as a state police commander.

Narco News obtained an ICE memo that outlines some of the requirements for properly documenting an informant (also referred to as a Confidential Source).

From the ICE memo:

 

“The original source [informant] ID card will be mailed to HQ [ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C.]. … The source file will contain a sealed envelope with the source’s photograph. … An opening Report of Investigation will be located in the source file documenting information provided by the source.

… For payments of $25,000 and below there will be documentation in the source file detailing justification for the payment. For payments over the $25,000 level, there will be a completed and signed 14-point memorandum to HQ requesting the payment.

 

If Lozano was working as an undocumented informant for an ICE supervisor, then the memo makes it clear that relationship was outside the bounds of standard agency regulations. In addition, in such a case, ICE sources contend Lozano could not have been paid for his service without violating the rules governing informants.

“And a professional informant does not work for free. They do not take those kinds of risks for nothing,” an ICE source says. “So what was Lozano getting in exchange for being an informant?”

The answer to that question — as well as Lozano’s true relationship to ICE — remains an official mystery at this point.

One law enforcement veteran explains that if there is no documentation at ICE proving Lozano is an informant, ICE can now wash their hands of him and claim they know nothing. Unless Lozano has some leverage on ICE, or the ICE supervisor he worked for, that is likely what will happen, the source says.

Lozano will eventually have to be released from the hospital to a rehabilitative facility to complete his recovery. When that time comes, given the high risk he poses, who will then provide the security?

And when Lozano is finally able to return to his life in El Paso (since he certainly has no more life in Juárez), will there be some innocent bystander, maybe even a small child, with the misfortune to be near him when the next round bullets are unleashed?

Kind citizens of El Paso, welcome to the drug war, courtesy of the U.S. government.  

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