If you have not read the house of death, we highly recommend it.
By Bill Conroy
But informant claims ICE officials monitored call in which the murders were discussed.
El Paso, TX - If we are to believe the U.S. government, then justice was served in the House of Death homicides in February of this year when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Raul Bencomo was fired from his job.
But then, just because Lady Justice is blind doesn’t mean she’s stupid.
Bencomo was the ICE agent who controlled, or handled, the U.S. government informant implicated in the House of Death murders.
Ironically, Bencomo's firing on Feb. 10, 2009, came five years to the week after Mexican law enforcers identified on Feb. 6, 2004, the last of a dozen corpses dug up in the backyard of the House of Death, located at 3633 Parsioneros Street in Juarez, Mexico. The victims were all murdered, most tortured first, between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 by Mexican cops working for a cell of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF) narco-trafficking organization.
The ICE informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, himself a former Mexican cop, was a high-level member of that cell, which was headed by a brutal VCF lieutenant and sociopath named Heriberto Santillan Tabares.
The problem for ICE, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged with prosecuting Santillan, was that Ramirez Peyro worked as an ICE informant at the same time that he was assisting, even participating, in the murders of the victims later found buried in shallow graves at the House of Death — bodies unearthed in the wake of Santillan being lured across the border on Jan. 14, 2004, and arrested, within a day of his goons targeting a DEA agent working in Juarez for assassination.
In fact, the last body to be identified by Mexican federal agents at the House of Death in early February 2004 was that of Fernando Reyes, a Mexican attorney and the first House of Death victim — whose torture and murder was supervised (and tape-recorded clandestinely) by ICE informant and Santillan confederate Ramirez Peyro.
And so earlier this year, Ramirez Peyro’s handler, ICE agent Bencomo — in large measure for his alleged failures in promptly reporting Ramirez Peyro’s acts of homicide up the chain of command — was fired by ICE management.
Prior to his official termination, Bencomo had been on ICE’s payroll (the taxpayers dime) but off the job since 2004 as a result of being placed on “administrative” leave for reasons still not publicly acknowledged by the agency. His dismissal this past February, some five years after being benched by ICE, arguably was carried out to clean up one of the few remaining loose ends in the House of Death carnage in the wake of the swearing in of a new U.S. president.
The script in this case: a lone Hispanic federal agent, Bencomo, is to blame for the bloody deeds of a U.S. government informant.
ICE management in El Paso is not responsible, nor is ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, or officials with the Department of Justice in Washington — all of whom were made aware of the informant’s role in the first House of Death murder in August 2003 and still chose to authorize his continued use, despite, as of that date, having enough evidence in hand to indict Santillan. That decision resulted in at least 11 more murder victims being entombed at the House of Death in Juarez — which sprawls along the border just south of the Texas city of El Paso.
No, the buck did not stop with the important and powerful people in the chain of command, who, as some of them have claimed under oath, could not have anticipated that Ramirez Peyro would participate in future murders after he was given a pass on that initial murder. Certainly, the ICE supervisors and agents in charge and U.S. prosecutors who worked the Santillan case could not foresee the future — even if the informant, as he claims he did, informed them upfront, so they would understand the nature of the devil they were courting, that Santillan and the Mexican state cops on his payroll were ruthless killers who would certainly murder again.
Rather, it was all the fault of Bencomo, a lone agent in the field and Ramirez Peyro’s primary contact on the front lines of the farce called the drug war.
And it was Bencomo’s fault because he supposedly failed to keep the bosses at ICE in the loop about the informant’s participation in additional murders carried out after that first one in August 2003 was overlooked by those same entrenched bureaucrats — for the sake of keeping in motion a big case that promised to bolster agency budgets, careers and political fortunes.
Bencomo challenged ICE’s decision to separate him from his job earlier this year by filing an appeal with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), a quasi-judicial body charged with reviewing employment claims brought by federal employees. He lost that appeal in September and has since petitioned for a review of that decision, according to Bernard Parker, a spokesman for the MSPB.
Bencomo’s attorney, Tom Roth, did not return a call from Narco News seeking comment on the status of his client’s case.
However, Narco News did obtain a copy of the MSPB judge’s ruling in the Bencomo case through a Freedom of Information Act request.
And it appears, based on a dissection of that ruling, that ICE’s effort to script Bencomo as the scapegoat for the House of Death murders is little more than bad fiction.
On Feb. 12, 2004, nearly a month after the arrest of Santillan and the unearthing of the House of Death victims, ICE informant Ramirez Peyro traveled to the office of the Mexican General Consulate in Dallas, Texas, to provide a statement to a representative of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.
As part of that statement, Ramirez Peyro described a double execution in which he played a participatory role:
Another execution that I remember was on November 23, 2003. The municipal police of Juarez seized 70 kilograms of marijuana belonging to [Mexican state police] commander Miguel Loya that was going to be transported via the Puente Libre (free bridge) in Ciudad Juarez. This seizure caused the deaths of “Paisa” and “El Chapo” because Santillan ordered me to have these drug mules meet him in the little Parsioneros house [the House of Death].This past July, Ramirez Peyro also described in detail those same murders during a recorded interview with Narco News that was aired on Mike Levine’s Expert Witness show on Pacifica Radio in New York City.
Following is an excerpt from that on-air interview:
I call Santilllan … and he said why don’t you come to the house just to talk. So I said all right and we went to the house and then Santillan arrived, and then another 15 state police agents, among them Comandante [Miguel] Loya [a Mexican state police commander who worked as an enforcer for Santillan].And so, after driving Paisa and Chapo to the House of Death on Parsioneros Street in Juarez at the request of Santillan, the informant remains at the house and threatens the victims just prior to the pair being shot by a Mexican state police commander while 14 other state cops look on — one handing Commander Loya a gun with a silencer to carry out the cold-blooded murders.
… So I explain to these guys [Paisa and Chapo] the situation that I already told them, that they can’t mess with us [the VCF organization]. If they don’t feel respect for me, they better feel respect for the organization because behind me there was a very big team of people and they were messing with all of us.
… In the mean time, Comandante Loya comes for their IDs and he leave for the kitchen and starts running their names over several channels, and then Santillan basically repeats what I told to them and then Comandante Loya repeats it again, and at some point he said, “… You need to cover your head. Just pull up your shirts and put it around your head.”
So they did it, and he just grabbed them by the neck and put them face down on the floor. They start to put like some kind of duck tape around their head, but one of them started doing noise so Comandante Loya made signs to someone [one of the other state cops] to pass him a gun with a silencer; so he shot this guy. And this other one, he heard the shots also and started making noise, so he shot him also.
The murders of Paisa and Chapo mark the second and third known homicides carried out at the House of Death in which Ramirez Peyro played a direct role — either by supervising the murder, as in the case of Mexican attorney Fernando Reyes, or by delivering the victims to their assassins, as in the case of Paisa and Chapo.
And in both cases, Ramirez Peyro claims he informed ICE of his role in those murders.
In early August 2003, he reported the murder of Reyes to his ICE handlers — and the fact that he had participated in the slaying.
The Santillan case was of such importance to the leadership of the ICE and DOJ bureaucracy that even after being made aware of the informant’s participation in that murder, high-level ICE and Justice Department officials still approved Ramirez Peyro’s continued use in the investigation — with the caveat that he not participate in any more violent acts, according to Ramirez Peyro, who also claims he was told to stop using a tape recorder.
“After going through everything that happened [with the Reyes murder] they [ICE] said, ‘If something like this happens again, don’t record it,’” Ramirez Peyro said in an interview with Narco News.
The ICE and DOJ approvals authorizing the continued use of Ramirez Peyro as an informant are outlined in an affidavit filed in federal court in 2006 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden, who, at the time, worked for San Antonio-based U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton — a close ally of then-President George W. Bush.
From Assistant U.S. Attorney Fielden’s sworn affidavit:
On or about August 5, 2003, I was contacted at home by ICE GS [Group Supervisor] Curtis Compton and advised of a murder that had taken place in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico in which Santillan-Tabares was involved. The incident had been recorded by the CI [confidential informant Ramirez Peyro]. I, in turn, contacted my supervisor, Assistant United States Attorney Margaret Leachman. She later told me that she had advised Richard Durbin, Chief of the Criminal Division for the Western District of Texas, of the incident. The next morning I spoke with my OCDETF advisor, Greg Surovic and told him of the incident. It was some time later that I learned that the individual murdered was identified as Ferando Reyes.On September 4, 2003 United States District Judge Phillip Martinez, Western District of Texas signed an order authorizing the continued interception of a cellular telephone (915-892-8888). [That cell phone was given to Santillan by Ramirez Peyro so that calls made to and from it could be monitored in real time by ICE.] The affidavit for the continued wire interception discussed the murder of Fernando Reyes on August 5, 2003. This affidavit was prepared by ICE Special Agent David Ortiz, reviewed and approved by his chain-of-command, reviewed by me and the Office of Enforcement Operations Attorney Nancy Brinkac and her supervisor and approved by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G. Malcolm. [Emphasis added.]
… I am aware that the El Paso ICE agents notified ICE management in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City, Mexico of the murder which occurred on August 5, 2005 and that ICE management in El Paso and in Washington, D.C. approved the continued use of the CI and the continued investigation of Santillan-Tabares.
So, even after the ICE informant Ramirez Peyro helped to carry out a murder for the Santillan organization, DOJ and ICE officials went to bat for him and kept him on the case, even securing approval for a wiretap from a federal judge — though it is not clear from Fielden’s statement if the judge was made aware of all the details of Ramirez Peyro’s participation in the Reyes murder prior to issuing the order for the wiretap.
However, what seems clear is that Ramirez Peyro’s reporting of the murders of Paisa and Chapo — only some three months after he assisted in the murder of Reyes —created a problem for ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office overseeing the Santillan case. That problem is what led, in large part, to the eventual dismissal of Bencomo from his job as an ICE agent.
Convenient Fall Guy
In the Sept. 9, 2009, ruling against former ICE agent Bencomo, MSPB Administrative Judge Chizoma Ihekere concluded that the “the penalty for removal is reasonable, under the circumstances.”
Among those “circumstances” was Bencomo’s alleged failure to report “up the chain of command” Ramirez Peyro’s participation in the murders of Paisa and Chapo on Nov. 23, 2003.
From Judge Ihekere’s ruling:
In his sworn affidavit dated April 1, 2004, the appellant [Bencomo] states the following:In fact, the initial debriefing of Ramirez Peyro after the murders was conducted on Nov. 25 (two days after the murders), with a follow-up debriefing conducted on Dec. 1, 2003. Bencomo, according to the judge’s ruling, claims he recalls getting a phone call from Ramirez Peyro informing him of the murders, but that he does not remember the Nov. 25 briefing.
Yes, the CI [Ramirez Peyro] called me on November 25, 2003 and told me that SANTILLAN had murdered two more individuals. I asked the source [Ramirez Peyro] if he had participated and he stated "No." I was the acting GS [group supervisor] at the time. GS Johnson was on annual leave at the time, I then informed GS C. [Curtis] Compton that same day and was told to bring in the source and get a full debrief. The full debriefing was not conducted until December 1, 2003 because members of my group were conducting a controlled delivery of 2800 pounds of marijuana for the SANTALLAN organization The debriefing was conducted by SA [ICE special agent] Ortiz, SA Rico and myself, I later discovered that the source drove the 2 men to the house and inspected the burial of the bodies.
“The appellant [Bencomo] said that he was busier than usual on November 25, 2003 because he was the acting Group Supervisor, they did not have the manpower to conduct surveillance, and he was getting ready to go on leave,” the judge writes in the ruling. “He also stated that on November 25, 2003, his focus was on taking down the drugs and he notified Compton that two men had been killed.”
However, the MSPB judge did not buy Bencomo’s explanation of why he did not recall the Nov. 25 debriefing of Ramirez Peyro — even though Bencomo passed a polygraph indicating he was truthful in stating he did not remember the debriefing. The judge also took issue with the fact that there was no written report generated from the Nov. 25 debriefing — during which the informant detailed the full extent of his participation in the murders of Paisa and Chapo.
In addition, the judge deemed Bencomo “negligent in the performance of his duties” for failing to obtain the full details of the murders and to report them to Compton or other officials in the chain of command.
“Compton testified that the appellant [Bencomo] did not contact him after the debriefing to tell him what 913 [code for Ramirez Peyro] said, though he would have expected him to, given the information 913 provided that day,” the judge’s ruling states.
More from Judge Ihekere’s ruling:
… It is undisputed that 913 [Ramirez Peyro] was debriefed on November 25, 2003, and that during that debriefing [unlike the Dec. 1 debriefing], he gave specific details regarding his involvement in the murders of Chapo and Paisa. It is also undisputed that once 913 told the appellant [Bencomo] and [ICE agent] Rico of his involvement, that information was neither passed up the chain of command nor memorialized in a report.In essence, Bencomo took the fall for the fact that Ramirez Peyro’s participation in two murders was not documented or reported to ICE leadership. Clearly, Compton, and presumably his bosses, were aware that Santillan had murdered two more people, since Bencomo clearly reported that fact to Compton, according to Judge Ihekere’s ruling.
The appellant claims that he was not in the room when 913 revealed his involvement in the murders and that he expected Rico or [ICE agent] Ortiz [who was at the Dec. 1 debriefing] to generate the debriefing report. Even if the appellant was on the phone during the debriefing [as Bencomo claimed he was] about what he admits was a significant event, I do not find it reasonable that he did not ask Rico what the source said when he was not in the room.
The appellant knew that management wanted to be kept informed of 913's involvement in serious crimes, yet failed to gather information and relay the details of the role 913 [Ramirez Peyro] played in the murders. The appellant was instructed by Compton to get the information and had previously been instructed to report such information.
… By his own testimony, he neither got the information from 913 nor did he ensure that the information was memorialized in a report. Accordingly, I find that preponderant evidence supports the agency's charges that the appellant failed to follow supervisory instructions and was careless/negligent in the performance of his duties, and the charges are sustained.
But conveniently, other than Bencomo and ICE agent Rico (who had been on the job only six months in late 2003), there allegedly is no evidence, or paper trail, indicating that anyone at ICE or the U.S. Attorney’s Office was made aware — until after the House of Death victims were dug up in early 2004 — that a U.S. government informant now had the blood of three victims on his hands.
“[ICE agent] Ortiz testified that he attended a debriefing of 913 [Ramirez Peyro] on December 1, 2003 and wrote the report on that debriefing, but did not even learn about the November 25, 2003 debriefing [in which the informant detailed his involvement in the murders of Paisa and Chapo] until February or March [of 2004],” the MSPB judge’s ruling states. “Ortiz testified that he first learned about the November 25, 2003 debriefing when he began to prepare notes to turn over to OPR [ICE’s internal affairs unit] and found Rico’s notes from that day.”
Interestingly, it appears that it took an ICE internal affairs investigation to ferret out the notes that evidence Ramirez Peyro’s participation in the slayings of Paisa and Chapo. And those notes never found there way into an ICE report nor was the information communicated up the chain of command by Bencomo — who himself was unaware of the information in those notes, he claims, because he was out of the room on a phone call when the informant communicated the information to Ortiz during the Nov. 25, 2003, debriefing.
For that whole scenario to make sense, it would mean a rookie ICE agent, or at best Bencomo, was in a position of having essentially unchecked control of the Santillan investigation. And that just doesn’t seem to pass the smell test, if we consider the major investment of money, personnel and time put into the Santillan case by ICE and DOJ, as well as the high-stakes nature of the case —given that Santillan was no mere drug mule, but rather a significant leader in the powerful VCF drug organization.
Adding It Up
As evidence of the seriousness of the Santillan case, on Feb. 18, 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio (then headed by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton) announced a superseding indictment against Santillan that added five charges of murder to the original narco-trafficking charges contained in the initial indictment returned against him in December 2003.
Those murder charges alleged Santillan “intentionally killed or aided, abetted and caused the murders” of the individuals identified, which included the first House of Death victim Reyes.
However, the murders of Paisa and Chapo are nowhere to be found in this superseding indictment, even though the MSPB ruling makes it clear that, in addition to ICE agents Bencomo, Ortiz and Rico, ICE Group Supervisor Compton also was made aware by Bencomo that “SANTILLAN had murdered two more individuals.”
In addition, an agency report was generated after the informant’s Dec. 1, 2003, debriefing about those murders, according to the MSPB judge’s ruling. And though that report apparently does not reference Ramirez Peyro’s participation in the murders, it certainly should have referenced Santillan’s involvement — or it, too, was seriously deficient in memorializing the facts.
And even if that was the case, it would seem likely that Sutton’s office was aware of the statement the informant gave to the Mexican government on Feb. 12, some six days prior to the announcement of the superseding indictment against Santillan.
“Regarding the aforementioned executions [at the House of Death] I also saw El Paisa and Chapo and I even handed over a photograph of these subjects in which Chapo appears with a woman…,” Ramirez Peyro says in his statement, taken in Dallas, for the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.
And, according to Ramirez Peyro’s Feb. 12 statement, “Santillan ordered [the informant] to have these drug mules [Paisa and Chapo] meet him in the little Parsioneros house,” — which is evidence that Santillan participated in those murders. In addition, both Paisa and Chapo, according to Ramirez Peyro’s statement to the Mexican government, were buried in the backyard of the House of Death on Parsioneros Street.
So why weren’t Paisa and Chapo included among Santillan’s murder victims in the superseding indictment?
Could it be that federal prosecutors somehow never got wind of Ramirez Peyro’s statement to the Mexican government and also were never informed by ICE of Santillan’s direct role in those murders, which the informant Ramirez Peyro clearly communicated to ICE agents? If so, given all of the ICE officials in the loop about those murders, such a failure of communication could not be blamed solely on Bencomo.
Or could it be that U.S. Attorney Sutton’s office was very much aware that both Santillan and the U.S. government informant Ramirez Peyro participated in the murders and chose for some as yet unknown reason not to include those homicides in Santillan’s superseding indictment?
In any event, excluding the homicides of Paisa and Chapo from the superceding indictment assured that the informant’s role in those additional murders would not be exposed to public examination should that indictment lead to a trial. Had those two murder victims been added to the Santillan count, ICE and federal prosecutors may well have been forced to explain in open court, during a heated presidential election year , why they continued to sanction the use of the informant after he had participated in not only the initial murder of Reyes, but also in the subsequent murders of Paisa and Chapo.
The MSPB ruling against Bencomo sets out certain dates around the murders of Paisa and Chapo that are worth lining up, a bit like bowling pins.
According to the ruling, via the testimony of various ICE agents, including Bencomo, Paisa and Chapo were murdered at the House of Death on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2003. However, it was not until two days later, on Nov. 25, that Ramirez Peyro allegedly called Bencomo to inform him that Santillan had carried out the murders.
And that same day, Tuesday, Nov. 25, according to the MSPB ruling, the informant was brought into the ICE office in El Paso to be debriefed about the murders.
The only problem with that story is that the informant himself claims things didn’t go down that way.
Here’s how Ramirez Peyro, in an interview with Narco News later aired on Pacifica Radio in New York, describes what happened in the wake of Paisa and Chapo’s murders:
Ramirez Peyro: The next morning [Monday, Nov. 24, 2003, after the murders of Paisa and Chapo] Santillan called me on my phone, and I'm aware ICE have this recording.Assuming Ramirez Peyro’s version of events is accurate, that means ICE officials knew about the murders, and Ramirez Peyro’s involvement in them, on Nov. 24, per monitoring in real time and recording the call between the informant and Santillan — which Bencomo's MSPB ruling does not reflect.
And he explained to me, he say, “You know what? We take that decision to have killed these guys because now you have to be in charge of the people he [Paisa] was leading, so now you take responsibility of these people and keep working with them.” That was his explanation of why they decide to kill them [Paisa and Chapo].
Narco News: Did you tell ICE about those two people [Paisa and Chapo] getting murdered? Was that reported to ICE?
Ramirez Peyro: ... Yes, I reported it [Paisa and Chapo’s murders], but not immediately. That happened [the two murders, which the informant helped carry out] on a Sunday [Nov 23, 2003] and I think I call on Monday [Nov. 24] after they [ICE] listened to that call that Santillan made to me [discussing the details of the murders and why the pair were killed].
If I remember what, they just receive me in the [ICE} office on Tuesday [Nov. 25] the next day [after Santillan’s call]. That's when they made the debrief because they were busy doing something else." [Emphasis added.]
If Ramirez Peyro is telling the truth, then the recording of that call between him and Santillan would seem to be evidence that the ICE chain of command was well aware of the informant's participation in Paisa and Chapo's murders. So where is that recording, who knew about it and when, and why does the informant’s version of events differ from the record in Bencomo's MSPB proceedings?
Sandy Gonzalez is the former DEA Special Agent in Charge in El Paso who sent a controversial, but factual, memo in February 2004 to his counterpart at ICE, which also found its way to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton. The memo raised serious questions about ICE’s role in allowing their informant to participate in the House of Death murders.
Here’s Gonzalez’ reaction to the MSPB ruling against Bencomo and the new revelations by the informant:
The [MSPB] record clearly shows that the call [from Ramirez Peyro about Paisa and Chapo’s murders] was reported to [ICE Group Supervisor] Compton. That satisfies the requirement to report it up the chain of command. The rest is just bureaucratic paperwork.Attorney Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs, which was later reorganized to create ICE, worked for years in internal affairs for the agency and currently represents ICE agents with employment actions against the agency.
… Assuming what Compton said [according to the MSPB ruling] is true [that he was notified of the murders by Bencomo], the fact is that as a supervisor he's supposed to ask questions [beyond relying solely on Bencomo’s report] — particularly when he's told about the two murders while being fully aware of the informant's participation in the first murder [of Reyes]. And if the call was recorded as Lalo [Ramirez Peyro] claims, that increases the likelihood that Compton knew about the whole thing [including the informant’s role in Paisa and Chapo’s murders].
If the call was being monitored and recorded, then there's a strong possibility that several people knew about it. Monitored to me means there was an intercept, court authorized perhaps, with people listening in real time. If so, the USAO [U.S. Attorney’s Office] and the court had to be notified. Perhaps there are contract monitors out there who know about this case. …
Conrad offers the following take, via e-mail, on the Bencomo MSPB ruling and Ramirez Peyro’s recounting of his report to ICE of the murders of Paisa and Chapo:
… It is my understanding that the phone Lalo [Ramirez Peyro] was using was one provided by Customs (ICE), therefore a government phone and one that probably was cloned so that it could be monitored. Any calls were [also] likely recorded.Interestingly, a DEA timeline of events that details events surrounding the attempted murder of a DEA agent and his family by Santillan’s goons on Jan. 14, 2008, reveals that DEA agents from Juarez investigating that incident were allowed to review “recordings [made on Jan. 14, 2008] of the 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:45 PM and 6:57 PM conversations” between the informant Ramirez Peyro and Santillan.
Regardless, there is no doubt in my mind that ICE management knew what was going on — on Nov 24 [the day Santillan called Ramirez Peyro to discuss the murders]. As to where the tapes are — they are GONE. ...
What does not make sense to me is that if Lalo [Ramirez Peyro] called on Monday, Nov 24, and he told them [ICE] about the conversation he had with Santillan that same day, why didn’t Customs/ICE immediately have him come in. Any agent could have done the debriefing and alerted HQ [ICE headquarters] of this stunning development. This is not something you would delay or sit on unless you are trying to set the stage to cover your ass.
My guess is that ICE knew of the information WHEN Lalo got the call from Santillan [on Monday, Nov. 24, 2003]. Whoever listened would have taken the information to Compton, [Patty] Kramer [then second in charge of ICE El Paso] or [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Juanita [Fielden] IMMEDIATELY. The delay until the next day [Nov. 25] for the debrief ONLY makes sense if you are trying to cover the matter up.
My GUESS is that whoever got the info first (either thru monitoring of the call or Lalo calling in) notified his/her superior or Compton or Kramer and it was discussed with Juanita [Fielden].
Further — if the call between Lalo [Ramirez Peyro] and Santillan was monitored, and this info came out (the informant's participation in the murders), procedurally it would have had to be informed —immediately — to HQ [ICE headquarters] and the AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney] involved in the case. I believe those notifications took place.
The DEA timeline notes that in the 8:00 AM conversation (which occurred prior to the evening traffic stop of the DEA agent and his family that nearly led to their deaths) Santillan requested “that the CS [the informant] bring the keys and unlock the residence [the House of Death] located at Calle Parsioneros #3633.”
At a debriefing on the evening of Jan. 14, 2004, according to the DEA timeline, the informant Ramirez Peyro revealed that Santillan had told him during that 8:00 AM phone call that he was planning “a carne asada,” which the DEA timeline describes as “a barbecue or cook-out in Spanish,” which was a codeword for “a torture and killing of someone.”
The informant Ramirez Peyro also revealed in the statement he provided to the Mexican government that Santillan had discussed the planned murders with him during a conversation on Jan. 13.
From Ramirez' statement:
The last execution I know of was on January 13 of this year . The engineer Santillan [the narco-trafficker at the center of the House of Death investigation] asked me to have the house ready because he was going to have some "grilled meat." Later, at 10:00 in the evening, he told me to hold off but to start early in the morning [Jan. 14]. So then at around 8:00 in the morning he spoke with me and told me to send someone to the house to be waiting, so I sent my buddy Jose Jaime Marquez, who went to open the door of the Parsioneros 3633 house [the House of Death].Within hours of that 8:00 AM phone conversation, at the House of Death, Santillan's men brutally tortured and murdered three men, including an El Paso man, Luis Padilla, who was a U.S. legal resident. Former DEA commander Gonzalez claims Ramirez Peyro’s ICE handlers were likely made aware of those planned murders on Jan. 13 — as a result of monitoring the informant’s communications with Santillan.
Former DEA commander Gonzalez alludes to that fact in the Feb. 24, 2004, memo he sent to ICE’s top agent in El Paso.
Your CS [Ramirez Peyro] knew on January 13, 2004, that Santillan was planning a “carne asada” for the Parsioneros house the following day, and nothing was done about it until Santillan called your CS [Ramirez Peyro] on the night of the 14th to check the names of our agents. By that time, three more human beings had been tortured and killed.At a minimum, it is clear from the available evidence that ICE had the informant’s phone wired up, and that ICE officials likely monitored in real time, as well as recorded, the 8:00 AM phone conversation on Jan. 14, 2004, which provided advance warning of the triple murder that occurred later on that day.
The DEA timeline states that DEA agents present at a debriefing on the evening of Jan. 14, 2004, “initially reviewed recordings of the 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 6:45 PM and 5:47 PM conversations [emphasis added]” between Ramirez and Santillan.
Both ICE commander Kramer and U.S. prosecutor Fielden were present at this debriefing. Strangely though, the DEA timeline also reveals that the recording of the 8:00 AM phone conversation later mysteriously vanished.
From the DEA timeline:
Copies of the latter two conversations were obtained from ICE on Saturday January 17th. After repeated requests to obtain copies of the first two [including the tape recording of the 8:00 AM phone conversation] ICE eventually related that those recordings do not exist.So, evidence that might show ICE officials had advanced warning of murders at the House of Death conveniently disappears, again.
Among the counter-charges that Bencomo raised in his MSPB case was the fact that he was being treated differently, more severely, than other ICE agents who also were made aware of the Paisa and Chapo murders.
However, the judge in the case didn’t agree:
… In his closing argument, the appellant claimed that Compton, Rico, and Ortiz were treated more favorably with regard to the first two charges. I do not find that the appellant was the recipient of disparate treatment. There is no evidence that either Compton, Rico, or Ortiz provided false statements regarding the November 25, 2003 debriefing or any false statements at all.But there is evidence that Compton, at least, has made false statements in the past, according to a deposition provided in January 2007 as part of another MSPB case.
In the deposition, Kenn Thomas, a former ICE program manager (later promoted to the post of special agent in charge of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility, or internal affairs, in San Diego) testified directly about Compton’s credibility and past disciplinary issues.
Among the issues Thomas raised in that deposition are the following:
• Compton failed to “timely report” information related to the House of Death case and also, in a separate matter, engaged in violence in the workplace, misused a government vehicle and made “false statements” to government investigators.
• In addition, Thomas testified under oath that the agency subsequently “re-colored,” or whitewashed, Compton’s disciplinary record, which resulted in him receiving only a one-day suspension.
The long trail of officially “re-colored” evidence that marks the House of Death is likely to continue concealing the truth so long as our judges, politicians and citizens remain distracted or disinterested — or otherwise numbed by the extent of the drug-war carnage (thousands of murders in the past few years in Juarez alone). In such an environment, it is enough for ICE officials to set Bencomo up as the fall guy and simply move on with drug-war business as usual, which is noble as propaganda but seriously corrupted and dysfunctional in practice.
Bencomo, though, is not the only victim of this charade that ICE and DOJ officials have attempted to pass off as justice in the House of Death case. Those who were entombed at 3633 Parsioneros, too, have been buried yet again by the cover-up.
Santillan is now doing time in a federal pen after cutting a deal in April 2005 with then U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton that resulted in the murder charges in the superseding indictment being discarded.
And the informant, Ramirez Peyro, remains locked away in a federal cage in New York still fighting an effort launched by the Department of Homeland Security in May 2005 (a month after Santillan’s plea deal) to deport him back to a certain death in Mexico.
“I do not know how, but it seems to me that Bencomo was made the scapegoat,” says former U.S. Customs supervisor Conrad. “…There are any number of things that do not make sense here, but ICE is hell-bent on keeping this under wraps.”