Liberty and Accessibility

Monday, December 11, 2006

The following article is posted from another blog. Due to the nature of the story, some government officials might try to find a way to shut the blog down to keep it from getting out. It will be harder for this story to just go away if the information is in more than one place. Here it goes.
How far will the government go to prosecute its so-called War on Drugs? It will look the other way while one of its informants commits multiple murders. Then it will try to cover up its own complicity.
A few months ago I was privileged to speak with several whistleblowers from the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, which calls for protection from retaliation for national security government employees who report waste, fraud, abuse and other misconduct. I’ve covered many of their stories here in the past, but one of them sounded so outrageous, and got more complex the more I looked into it, that I finally just put it on the to-do list and vowed to come back to it later.
So this story is long overdue, and for that, I apologize.
Sandalio Gonzalez worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration for 32 years before he retired in January of 2005. As Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso, Texas Field Division, Gonzalez was working in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel in Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande. The government had managed to get an informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, also known as Lalo, recruited into the organization. But Lalo, it seems, was playing both sides. When he was arrested for smuggling marijuana in 2003, DEA dropped him as an informant, but ICE kept him on.
From here, the story takes a bizarre turn: A month later, Lalo “supervised” the August 2003 murder of Mexican lawyer Fernando Reyes in a house in east Juárez which would come to be known as the House of Death. But ICE kept using him as an informant, with approval from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
And they kept using him, even after he killed at least a dozen people, including El Paso resident Luis Padilla, in an apparent case of mistaken identity.
“There were at least 15 people that were killed that could have been stopped at the very beginning,” Gonzalez said. “Every indication is that they were allowed to occur in furtherance of a case, of a criminal case.”
Gonzalez alleges that ICE kept the informant on, and didn’t arrest his boss, Heriberto Santillan, because ICE and the U.S. Attorney, John Sutton, wanted to continue building their case against him. But DEA had said, prior to any of the murders, that there was already enough evidence against Santillan and he should be taken down. Later, Sutton would drop all of the murder charges in a plea bargain.
Gonzalez found out the informant was still active when an undercover DEA agent in Juárez barely escaped with his life when the cartel went looking for him to kill him. He wrote a letter (PDF) to his counterpart in ICE expressing his “frustration and outrage at the mishandling of the [Santillan] investigation that has resulted in the unnecessary loss of human life in the Republic of Mexico, and endangered the lives of [DEA agents] and their immediate families [in Juárez].”
And that’s when the retaliation began.
“DEA top management threatened me that if I didn’t retire, they would give me a bad evaluation,” Gonzalez said. He refused, and did indeed get a downgraded performance evaluation, so he filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board.
“I had enough to where I was granted a hearing in my case where I had the right to question all these officials. Before that happened, they went ahead and settled the case.” Gonzalez retired, and immediately filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. His case is now being heard in federal court in Miami, Fla.
Lalo is now in federal detention facing deportation despite being granted asylum, a decision the government successfully appealed. “Now that they have no use for this guy, they’re trying to send him to his death, almost certain death,” Gonzalez said.
“When we have officials of both the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security willing to cover up multiple murders in order to protect political careers, I think we’ve reached the lowest end of the totem pole.”
Bill Conroy of Narco News has been covering this story virtually from the beginning, having written dozens of articles and obtained hundreds of pages of government documents under the Freedom of Information Act which tend to support Gonzalez’ allegations of employment discrimination and government coverup of one of its own informants participating in drug smuggling and murder. I highly recommend checking out his coverage to learn more about this case.
(Hat tip: Glenn Greenwald)

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