Juarez kidnapping case opens Pandora’s box for Congressman Silvestre Reyes

New details have surfaced concerning the recent kidnapping of a U.S. Congressman’s relative in Juarez that provide a clearer picture of the crime, and the U.S. government’s involvement, than was reported earlier this week by Narco News.

The additional details are outlined in an internal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document that Narco News has obtained. That document raises a new set of troubling questions related to the U.S. government’s role in the incident. The revelations in the document also may well thrust the U.S. Congressman into a potentially explosive political quagmire – along with the leadership of the U.S. law enforcement agency that made the calls in this case.

The ICE document, addressed to the head of ICE, Julie Myers, makes clear that the woman who was abducted in Juarez is a “relative” of the wife of U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chair of the House Intelligence Committee — which has some oversight responsibilities for the Department of Homeland Security, the parent department of ICE.

From the ICE document, dated June 23, 2008:

On June 22, 2008, ICE Assistant Attaché Juarez reported that kidnapping victim Erika Posselt was recovered by Mexican officials. …
Assistant Attaché Juarez agents continue to coordinate investigative leads with Mexican officials to identify the subjects of this investigation. Due to the sensitive nature of this incident, please do not disclose outside of ICE.

Narco News reported on June 23, based on information from its law enforcement sources, that the abducted woman was Reyes’ sister-in-law — though the ICE document does not make clear the precise nature of the woman’s “relative” relationship to the Congressman’s wife.

The ICE document also indicates that the woman was released by her abductors after a ransom was paid. Narco News previously reported that the woman was released after the kidnappers discovered she was the sister-in-law of the Congressman. The woman was abducted while at an auto-glass store in Juarez (a store she owned, the ICE document indicates). The prior Narco News report indicated she was abducted while “shopping.”

More from the ICE document:

On June 19, 2008, the [ICE] Assistant Attaché Juarez was contacted by a Congressional Aide (CA) for Congressman Silvestre Reyes of the 16th District of Texas. Congressman Reyes’ aide advised that Erika Posselt, a Mexican national and relative of Congressman Reyes’ wife, had been kidnapped in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Subsequently, the ICE Assistant Attaché Juarez requested and received the full assistance of the ICE SAC [Special Agent in Charge] El Paso office, and coordinated a meeting in El Paso, TX with the Chihuahua State Police to recover the kidnapped victim.
On June 19, 2008, ICE Assistant Attaché Juarez personnel contacted the victim’s brother and learned that a group of armed men kidnapped Ms. Posselt from ACCRIPARTS, an auto glass store she owns in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Additionally, agents learned the kidnappers had called Ms. Posselt’s brother and demanded a ransom of $500,000 in exchange for her safe return. The kidnappers stated that Ms. Posselt would be killed if he contacted law enforcement authorities.
The Assistant Attaché Juarez contacted Patricia Gonzalez, The Attorney General (AG) for the State of Chihuahua, to coordinate efforts to recover Ms. Posselt. Subsequently the Chihuahua Commandant in charge of kidnapping cases contacted the ICE Assistant Attaché Juarez and attended a meeting at the SAC El Paso office with SAC El Paso and Assistant Attaché Juarez agents. Additionally, Assistant Attaché Juarez contacted Technical Operations in Washington, D.C. to coordinate technical support for this investigation. ICE Attaché Mexico briefed the Deputy Chief of Mission and the FBI Legal Attaché in Mexico City.

So, the big new twist in this plot revealed through the information in the ICE document is that the abducted woman was not a U.S. citizen, but rather, a citizen of Mexico, and that both ICE (part of the Department of Homeland Security) and the FBI (part of the Justice Department) were involved in the case, with ICE taking the lead role. (Narco News reported previously that ICE handled the “negotiations and debriefings” in the kidnapping case while the DEA was left in the dark, creating a bit of inter-agency consternation — though our story left open the possibility of FBI involvement.)

These new facts raise the big question of why a U.S. federal law enforcement agency was involved in negotiating the release of a Reyes’ family relative — a foreign citizen kidnapped in a foreign country. The potential repercussions of the answer to that question might also go a long way in explaining why Congressman Reyes’ office, to date, has not provided a comment to Narco News about the kidnapping.

Here’s how the ransom negotiations played out, according to the ICE document:

On June 20, 2008, Ms. Posselt’s brother advised SAC El Paso agents that the family planned to pay $30,000 to the kidnappers in exchange for her release. Subsequently, Assistant Attaché Juarez personnel established a command post with two Ministerio Publico attorneys from Chihuahua, one Chihuahua Commandante in charge of the operation, and Mexican federal agents (SSP) with the SSP Intelligence group, including two members from the SSP kidnapping squad. ICE Assistant Attaché Juarez agents, acting solely in a support role, provided Mexican authorities with technical and logistical assistance.
During a series of phone calls between the kidnappers and the victim’s brother, the kidnappers demanded $250,000, half of the initial ransom of $500,000, for Ms. Posselt’s release. The kidnappers also stated that they would kill Ms. Posselt if they did not receive the money. Additionally, investigators noted that during one of the phone calls they could hear Ms. Posselt yelling in the background. As a result of the negotiations, the kidnappers agreed to accept a ransom of $100,000 for Ms. Posselt’s release, and that she would be released after her brother delivered an initial payment of $32,000 in combined U.S. currency and Mexican pesos. The victim’s brother was also instructed to personally deliver the money.
On June 21, 2008 at approximately 7:05 p.m., the kidnappers contacted the victim’s brother and advised him to drop off the money at Avendida Las Torres, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. During the drive to the drop location, the kidnappers changed the delivery location twice. The ransom money was ultimately delivered by a “brother-in-law” of the victim’s brother to two male subjects on a motorcycle. After receiving the money, the subjects sped away. Investigators were unable to maintain surveillance of the motorcycle.
On June 22, 2008, at approximately 3:00 a.m., Assistant Attaché Juarez agents reported that the victim had been released and was in the custody of Mexican authorities. The victim was dropped off at a public location along with another kidnapping victim, Eduardo Fernandez, who had paid a ransom of approximately $56,000 for his release. Ms. Posselt refused medical treatment and was immediately transported to the El Paso POE [port of entry] and paroled into the United States for security reasons.

Given that dozens, if not hundreds (even the State Department does not release those statistics) of U.S. citizens are the victims of kidnappings overseas every year — many of those cases still unsolved for lack of law enforcement resources — addressing the big question of why ICE was called in on this one, at some point, seems like an unavoidable destiny for Congressman Reyes.

And when that day comes, might we find, after filtering through the spin, that relatives of U.S. Congressmen, such as U.S. Rep. Reyes (a former Border Patrol agent), by virtue of the quid-pro-quo culture of politics in the nation’s capital, are afforded special treatment by our law enforcement bureaucracies in these cases, even if their abducted relatives are not U.S. citizens?

In a human sense, no one can demonize Congressman Reyes for doing all within his power — if that is, in fact, what happened in this case — to protect the life of a family member, regardless of that individual’s country of origin. Even the most ardent anti-immigration crusader, who may well be fine with allowing an undocumented immigrant to die on the doorstep of a U.S. hospital, might concede that point.

If Reyes did use his influence as a powerful lawmaker in this case, then it is not all that different from a physician taking advantage of his position in society to secure scarce health-care resources for the benefit of a family member but possibly at the expense of another individual of lower social status who was first in line for that life-saving service.

Does it happen, sure; is it right, well, that’s another question — one that is best left to you, kind readers, to reflect and act on.

You can read the entire ICE document at this link.

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