ICE informant recounts the Whataburger murders

The Informant Interviews Part III: Fast food with a side order of death and betrayal

Heriberto Santillan Tabares, a narco-trafficker connected to the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) drug organization, was arrested in El Paso, Texas, in mid-January 2004 after being lured into the trap by a U.S. government informant.

The informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, as part of the plan, is pulled over by an El Paso squad car while driving in his car on a pre-designated street. Santillan is a passenger in the vehicle, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest Santillan.

The same day, DEA sources indicate, another of Santillan’s associates, a Mexican state police commander named Miguel Loya Gallegos (Santillan’s nephew), executes a man in a pick-up truck in Juarez, Mexico, and seriously wounds the passenger — shot in the mouth and neck. Loya also allegedly shows up at the scene of the murder to investigate the crime. Over the prior five months, at least a dozen other people had been tortured and murdered by Santillan’s VCF cell and buried in the backyard of a house in Juarez.

The informant, while working for ICE, helped to coordinate the gruesome operations of that house for Santil lan — with the knowledge of his ICE handlers. Ramirez Peyro also helped to carry out at least one of the murders at the house and was present for others, including at least two carried out by Loya. Ramirez Peyro claims he reported his activity to his ICE handlers — often in advance of these “carne asadas,” the code word for a torture/murder session at this House of Death. An affidavit sworn by an Assistant U.S. Attorney confirms ICE and the Department of Justice, at the highest levels, were made aware of the informant's participation in murder, yet sanctioned his continued use.

Within days of the arrest of Santillan in El Paso on drug and murder charges, the informant Ramirez Peyro was relocated to San Antonio, Texas, along with his family, where ICE put them up in an apartment. Santillan was slated to be tried in San Antonio, where the office of then-U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton was prosecuting his case.

ICE took Ramirez Peyro to San Antonio, in part, to protect him from operatives of the VCF who surely wanted to kill him for being a rat. Within weeks of Santillan’s arrest, Ramirez Peyro’s role as an ICE informant had been exposed through media reports, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Even though his real name was not used in those reports, it surely would have been clear to Santillan, and others associated with him, who the informant was in this case.

Despite this reality, Ramirez Peyro claims his ICE handlers suggested he find a job in San Antonio. And he did, as a security guard, working under his real name, he says, at shopping center called the Forum — located in Selma, a small northern suburb of San Antonio.

While he was living in San Antonio, Ramirez Peyro also claims that ICE asked for his assistance in yet another case they were working in the El Paso/Juarez area — allegedly targeting a corrupt U.S. Customs inspector.

Fast-food sting

As part of an ongoing series of interviews from his prison cell in Minnesota with Narco News, the informant recently revealed his version of how this new case, which proved to be his last, played out.

“I set up the deal from San Antonio [while supposedly under ICE’s protective custody and working under his own name at an area shopping center],” Ramirez Peyro said. “It took me two months to find someone to do it [to agree to bring a load of drugs from Juarez to El Paso to help set up a sting on the corrupt inspector] because I didn’t want to deal directly with cartel people.”

Ramirez Peyro said once the deal was in motion, and he got the go-ahead from ICE, he purchased an airline ticket and flew, by himself, to El Paso, arriving in the Texas border city on Monday morning Aug. 23, 2004.

“I took a cab to my girlfriend’s apartment [in El Paso, leaving his wife, from whom he is separated but still legally married, and kids in San Antonio],” he added. “I wasn’t worried about getting killed because no one knew I was there.”

Other than his ICE handlers, that is.

The plan was simple, in theory. A driver was to bring the merchandise, marijuana, by van across the bridge from Juarez to El Paso. Another individual was to bring across the money to pay off the corrupt Customs inspector for passing the load through the checkpoint. In this case, according to Ramirez Peyro, part of the money was sent in advance and the balance was to be delivered at a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in El Paso.

“I was told to remain in the background,” Ramirez Peyro said, “just to coordinate the different people.”

The first part of the plan, which played out on Aug. 25, 2004, went down like clockwork, and the first part of the payoff money for the inspector was delivered to ICE operatives.

The final leg of the sting was set to play out that same evening at the Whataburger hamburger joint near the border in El Paso. Ramirez Peyro said he sent his friend, Abraham Guzman, to pick up the money.

“He was an informant for the FBI, but he was loyal to me,” Ramirez Peyro said of Guzman, who was 27 and the father of a two-week old baby boy.

In fact, according to Ramirez Peyro, Guzman had helped him out in the past as well.

“About two weeks before [the Whataburger job] he [Guzman] had picked up money from a house I sold in Juarez and deposited it in my bank account,” Ramirez Peyro claimed. “… The owner of the merchandise [the marijuana] was supposed to deliver the money to Guzman [at the Whataburger] to pay the corrupt inspector.”

And so Guzman found himself at the Whataburger near downtown El Paso at about 11 p.m. waiting in a purple Lincoln Navigator for a bag of money to be delivered to wrap up a sting operation.

Instead, Guzman found himself on the receiving end of four bullets to the face and chest delivered by a VCF assassin. The perfect sting was a bust, compromised by a leak or some other critical oversight, and Guzman was a dead man.

Ramirez Peyro says he was in a white Pontiac car with his girlfriend driving toward the Whataburger when they heard the gun pops that ended Guzman’s life.

“We heard the shots and turned around,” Ramirez Peyro said. “I then called [Raul] Bencomo [his ICE handler].”

Ramirez Peyro said he and his girlfriend then met up with Bencomo in the parking lot of an El Paso supermarket.

“I got out of the car and got into Bencomo’s car, and we talked,” Ramirez Peyro said. “My girlfriend then took me to a hotel and she went to talk with Bencomo. I don’t know where they went.”

Ramirez Peryo said he later learned that ICE agents took his girlfriend to retrieve her children from her apartment and she was then taken to a separate hotel. Ramirez Peyro said he has not seen his girlfriend since that evening.

He added that he phoned Bencomo after arriving at his hotel to let him know where he was staying. Then, at about 2 a.m. in the morning [Aug. 26], Ramirez Peyro said ICE supervisor Curtis Compton showed up at the hotel and hauled him down to ICE headquarters in El Paso, where he was confronted by a cadre of agents as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden — who is part of Sutton’s office.

“They asked me why I was in El Paso,” Ramirez Peyro claimed. “They said I was not suppose to be there, and I was put into custody.”

In the wake of Guzman’s murder, Ramirez Peyro says at least four other people connected to the botched sting were murdered by VCF assassins — including the driver of the van and his son, and the individual who set up the drug deal with Ramirez Peyro.

Not long after the Whataburger-related murders, Ramirez Peyro said ICE brought him before a federal judge, arguing that he had to be placed in protective custody — specifically a prison.

“Fielden claimed that ICE didn’t have the resources to keep me safe,” Ramirez Peyro said. “I argued [in front of the judge] that I could not be put in prison, to keep me under house arrest, that I needed to be with my family.”

Ramirez Peyro also claimed the Mexican government was trying to blame him for the murders that happened in Mexico due to the Whataburger incident and was seeking to “put a warrant on me.” Had Mexico been successful in that effort, Ramirez Peyro claimed, it would have been a death sentence for him, since once returned to Mexico, he would have been turned over to the VCF by corrupt elements within the government.

As it turned out, Ramirez Peyro did wind up in a U.S. prison, he claimed, due to an act of blackmail carried out by Assistant U.S. Attorney Fielden.

“She told me either I agree to stay in jail, or we will deport your family,” Ramirez Peyro claimed. “So I had no choice but to agree.”

In May 2005, the Department of Homeland Security initiated official deportation proceeding against Ramirez Peyro — seeking to send him back to Mexico. A month prior to that, then-U.S. Attorney Sutton cut a deal with Santillan, agreeing to drop all murder counts against him in exchange for a guilty plea on narco-trafficking-related charges. That plea deal was struck within weeks of Narco News making public a letter penned by DEA's Special Agent in Charge in El Paso (Sandalio Gonzalez) that exposed Ramirez Peyro and the U.S. government's complicity in the House of Death carnage.

Ramirez Peyro is still sitting in a U.S. jail cell, in solitary confinement, fighting the U.S. government’s efforts to deport him to Mexico, where he argues he faces certain death at the hands of the “cartel,” which, he says, has its roots deep inside the Mexican government. His case is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

And, in the latest twist in this case, U.S. government sources tell Narco News that the Whataburger sting that led to Guzman’s murder, and the deaths of at least four other people (according to Ramirez Peyro), was not what it appeared to be. In fact, the sources claim Ramirez Peyro was misled, that the operation was not at all about busting a corrupt U.S. Customs inspector.

In fact, the government sources contend the operation was a controlled delivery designed to sting the very people that Ramirez Peyro enlisted to deliver the drugs from Juarez to El Paso.

When told about this allegation, Ramirez Peyro said it made sense to him, and is a scenario he has considered while rethinking events sitting in his prison cell. He also insisted that he was never told that a U.S. Customs inspector was not the real target of the sting.

If the operation was really targeting the people delivering the drugs, according to Ramirez Peyro, it explains why everyone he involved in the deal (leading them to believe there was a corrupt Customs inspector involved) was ultimately murdered.

“It doesn’t’ take too much for the cartel to figure out it is a set-up [through a leak from their government sources or because the load is apprehended or people arrested and it’s clear there is no corrupt inspector],” Ramirez Peyro said. “It would not be the first time. Most of the time, when that happens, all the people involved get killed.”

Stay tuned …

See prior storiies in the Informant Interviews series:

ICE, U.S. prosecutors turned blind eye to Juarez death houses

Informant says first victim buried at House of Death was U.S. citizen



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