ICE puts House of Death informant in harms way


Informant Ramirez Peyro transferred suddenly from county jail to federal detention center in New York


The House of Death informant, who is currently fighting an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to deport him back to a certain death in Mexico, has been dealt a new card by the U.S. government — courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Within weeks of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals publishing an opinion that went against the government in his case, ICE agents last week yanked the informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, out of the county jail in Elk River, Minn., where he had been housed in solitary confinement since the fall of 2006, and transferred him to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center located midway between Buffalo and Rochester in the community of Batavia in upstate New York.

Some observers familiar with Ramirez Peyro’s case, including former DEA Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez, contend that moving the informant from a county jail to a federal facility greatly increases the risk to his life.

“If he somehow winds up in the general population in a federal prison, given his background as an informant on the Juarez cartel, his life isn’t worth a plug nickel,” says Gonzalez, who blew the whistle on ICE’s alleged complicity in allowing the informant to assist in facilitating multiple murders in Juarez, Mexico.

Ramirez Peyro’s attorney, Jodi Goodwin, confirms that her client has been relocated to the federal detention center in Batavia and also reports that he is supposedly being kept in solitary confinement at the facility.

However, Gonzalez says he is convinced that ICE “doesn’t’ really want him [Ramirez Peyro] to be safe,” and contends that he clearly has been made less safe by ICE moving him from a small county jail to a federal detention facility, which houses far more hardened criminals who don't take kindly to informants like Ramirez Peyro.

Even in solitary confinement (evidence of the threat to his life), law enforcement sources point out, Ramirez Peyro has to leave his cell at some point, to shower and exercise at a minimum, and his life is only as safe as the protection afforded him during those excursions — and that assumes he is not “accidentally” placed into the general population at some point due to a bureaucratic snafu.

The Death Card

The House of Death murders occurred between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 in Juarez, Mexico, under the watch of the Bush administration, as did the cover-up of the U.S. government’s alleged complicity in those murders — a cover-up orchestrated at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, the DEA and ICE. [See link]

The victims were found buried in the backyard of a House at 3633 Parsioneros in Juarez, located just across th e Texas border from El Paso.

Ramirez Peyro, a former Mexican police officer, while working as an informant for ICE, participated in the first murder, which was carried out as part of his assignment to infiltrate a cell of the ruthless Vicente Carrillo Fuentes narco-trafficking organization. After informing his ICE handlers of his role in that initial murder, Ramirez Peyro was authorized by ICE and the Department of Justice, including the office of then-U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, to continue on his informant assignment — resulting in at least 11 more murders (many of them reported to ICE in advance by Ramirez Peyro) and the near assassination of a DEA agent and his family.

Sutton later cut a plea deal with the leader of the VCF cell (Heriberto Santillan Tabares) after orchestrating a campaign within the Department of Justice to silence DEA commander Gonzalez, who penned an internal memo delivered to Sutton in early 2004 exposing ICE’s complicity in the House of Death murders.

With Gonzalez effectively muzzled and Santillan pled out assuring no public trial, the Department of Homeland Security initiated deportation proceedings against Ramirez Peyro in 2005. His case has been tied up in the courts ever since — with an immigration judge twice ruling in favor of granting him deferral from deportation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Justice Department-controlled Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) twice ruling against Ramirez Peyro — to date.

On Aug. 4, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has now heard arguments twice in this matter) issued its most recent opinion in Ramirez Peyro’s case — resulting in the case once again being sent back to the BIA for review, with new instructions.

Specifically, the appeals court is asking the BIA to review its findings with respect to the legal construct of “under color of law” — which the BIA contorted to justify its most recent ruling against Ramirez Peyro. Essentially, the BIA does not contest that Ramirez Peyro, if deported to Mexico, would in all likelihood be murdered with the assistance of Mexican government officials on the payroll of narco-traffickers. However, the BIA reasoned that those Mexican officials would not be acting in their official government capacities, or "under color of law," when committing the murder, so the CAT would not apply in Ramirez Peyro’s case.

In essence, the Eighth Circuit shot down the BIA’s legal rationale on that front, pointing out the gruesome and pervasive track record of Mexican law enforcement and officials participation in narco-violence, including murder. The appeals court ordered the BIA to once again review Ramirez Peyro’s case in light of a stricter standard of culpability being applied to corrupt Mexican government officials who likely would assist in the Ramirez Peyro’s murder.

The House Card

Prior to being relocated in late August of this year to the federal detention center in Batavia, N.Y., Ramirez Peyro spent nearly three years in the county jail in Elk River, Minn., stuck in an eight-by-eight-foot cell some 21 hours a day — passing the time, he previously told Narco News, reading the Bible, mysteries or peering through his cell door to catch a glimpse of a TV in a nearby room.

Ramirez Peyro made it clear to Narco News during prior interviews conducted while he was being held in the county jail in Minnesota that he was not happy with the conditions at the facility. So it is possible Ramirez Peyro did request a transfer to a different prison facility that would provide him with a less-restrictive environment.

But if that’s the case and such a request prompted his recent transfer to the Batavia facility, Ramirez Peyro doesn’t appear to have accomplished his goal, since he is still being held in solitary confinement, according to his attorney, only now in an environment that appears to pose a much greater risk to his personal safety.

And there is little doubt that Ramirez Peyro is a marked man.

An Aug. 4 opinion issued by the federal court of appeals in Ramirez Peyro’s immigration case makes that reality clear:

It is undisputed that based on his work with the U.S. government there have been two attempts on Ramirez Peyro’s life. One attempt occurred in El Paso, Texas, and the other attempt occurred in Juarez, Mexico. Following the second attempt on his life … the United States placed Ramirez Peyro into protective custody in 2004. While detaining him, the U.S. government has taken efforts to ensure that Ramirez Peyro is semi-isolated from the general prison population, and the record includes a list of over forty-five individuals in prison who may wish to harm him based on his work for the United States.

And the federal detention center in Batavia would seem to be the kind of place that is a magnet for individuals who “may wish to harm” an informant like Ramirez Peyro.

The facility is operated by ICE — for whom the informant worked and against whom he is a witness to the agency’s alleged complicity in the House of Death murders. In addition, the Batavia facility includes 300 beds for “detained aliens” as well as 150 beds used by the U.S. Marshals Service for holding individuals in its custody.

The U.S. Marshals Service is the lead federal agency in charge of conducting fugitive investigations; in fiscal year 2008, according to the agency, it apprehended some 36,000 federal fugitives.

And adding to the potential drama in store for Ramirez Peyro in his new prison digs, it seems the line between the criminals and those charged with guarding them has broken down, at times, in the Batavia detention center.

A January 2009 story in the Buffalo News, with the headline “Drug theft was widespread at federal jail in Batavia,” details charges brought against Batavia detention center employees for stealing “prescription drugs that were meant for prisoners.” The story also states that the Batavia facility is a “holding center for more than 500 federal prisoners. Some of the prisoners are detained while facing federal criminal charges; others are alleged illegal aliens who face immigration proceedings.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of place you would want to be if you worked as an informant against the “Juarez cartel,” particularly if you also are seen as a potential witness to the alleged misdeeds of the agency (ICE) in charge of running the prison.

Last week, Narco News did attempt to get a comment from ICE officials as to why Ramirez Peyro was suddenly transferred to the Batavia prison facility — without warning, even to his attorney. ICE spokesperson Adelina Pruneda promised to look into the matter, but has not yet gotten back to Narco News with an answer.

In the end, this may all turn out well for Ramirez Peyro, given he has beaten the U.S. government at every turn in the courts — with an immigration judge twice ordering he be granted deferral of removal under the U.N. Convention against Torture.

Yet, even though Ramirez Peyro is not charged with a crime, (in exchange for serving as an informant for ICE, he was granted immunity from prosecution) he still remains in jail.

As a result of the extraordinary course the informant’s case has followed to date, and recognizing the threat he still poses to powerful elements connected to both the U.S. and Mexican governments, not everyone is convinced that his fate will be played out in the courts alone.

“They are going to get away with it [the informant’s murder],” Gonzalez speculates. “Only it’s not going to happen in Mexico.”

Stay tuned ….


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