Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

I was an Informant for the DEA

Sunday, January 24, 2010 |

‘I was an informant for the DEA’
El Pasoan leaves behind dangerous life as drug runner and snitch for the feds.

El Paso Inc.


El Paso, Texas - On a hot July day, Chris Heifner, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, was sailing along I-40 in a rented Buick Century headed to Kansas City, when a state trooper pulled him over.

The lawman said Heifner had been speeding, and that would have been that, had a police dog not alerted the officer to a 200-pound stash of marijuana in the trunk of the car.

That day, July 17, 2000, changed everything in Heifner’s life.

He was thrust into a tiny jail cell in the north Texas town of Amarillo. On the back of the cell door, a previous guest of the county had scribbled a message: “You are here because you have been stupid.”

True enough, thought Heifner

“I had just flushed my whole future down the toilet,” says Heifner. “I felt right then like I was circling the bowl.”

But even as the young man, a self-described Army brat born in El Paso and raised in Alabama, studied his feet in his jail cell, he had no clue to the perilous journey that awaited him.

The twists and turns included service as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, treacherous work that took him even deeper into El Paso’s drug underworld, eventually leading to a divorce and a struggle to make a living.

Now 36, Heifner is an adjunct professor of economics at El Paso Community College. He was recently quoted on a New York Times blog about the economics of the drug war. He has a book proposal making the rounds, and he’s a motivational speaker.

He agreed to talk to El Paso Inc. in the hope that by telling his story, he’ll attract funding for travel expenses so he can take his message to high school students.

His message is a simple one: success is a process. Young people must develop good habits and stick with them and trust that those habits will eventually result in a good life, he says.

This would have been good advice for Heifner himself when he was bouncing from college to college thinking that life was forever. Life got much more serious in December 1999 when he graduated from UTEP with no job prospects, his girlfriend became pregnant and they were facing eviction from their apartment.

Cartelito courier

He turned to a friend in his graduating class who seemed to have a lot of money, Jeffrey Todd Andes, a good country boy from Kansas. Heifner asked him for $2,000. Andes offered him $4,000.

Deep down, Heifner says, he knew how Andes got his money. In his desperate situation, however, he tried not to think about that. But beginning on Dec. 28, 1999, he had to. It was payback time.

Andes asked Heifner to drive to Ruidoso, taking a load of marijuana that had come across the Mexican border and delivering it to a distributor there. Heifner says Andes ran a small drug trafficking organization or cartelito that took drugs from El Paso to Kansas, Tennessee and East Texas.

Heifner began an eight-month spree as a drug courier, making thousands of dollars each run. He took pot to Memphis. He delivered money to the Mexican operators in Juárez. He worried not just about the police but also the buyers, who, after paying $100,000 or more for the drugs, might follow him and try to get their money back.

One Memphis dealer paid $75,000 for the goods and the next day chased Heifner from Tunica, Miss., to Little Rock, Ark., in hopes of getting his money back and doing who knows what to Heifner.

A 300-pound load of marijuana wrapped tight in plastic earned Heifner $20,000. His most lucrative run brought him $35,000, he says. He was able to pay the rent in those days. “The money was insane,” Heifner says.

Then came the traffic stop in Amarillo.

“I was scared straight,” says Heifner. “I had a newborn son, I had married my girlfriend and she was pregnant again. I had a family to raise and this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. I decided I would do whatever it took to be good.”

DEA visit

Heifner got deferred adjudication of his case. That meant no jail time and no felony conviction on his record. He got a job at Circuit City. He applied to UTEP’s MBA program.

Things were looking up for about 18 months. Until the DEA paid him a visit, warned him that he could still be charged with conspiracy in connection with his drug running and “suggested” he become an informant for the government.

Heifner went back to Andes and asked for money to hire an attorney, in case he did face changes. But Andes turned him down, and then came to Heifner’s home with a tough-looking gentleman he introduced as the man who would kill Heifner if he snitched.

“The ghosts of your past come back to haunt you,” Heifner says. “I was a family man who went to church, was working a job and trying to get into grad school, and everything I tried to step away from is now coming back and has me firmly it its talons.”

Heifner decided to cooperate with the DEA.

“By day, I was a grad student, a family man, a church-goer, and by night I was hanging out with unsavory individuals trying to collect information.”

It wasn’t possible to verify many of the details of Heifner’s story. The DEA said it couldn’t comment.

“We don’t talk about information about a cooperating witness or informant unless ordered to do so by a court,” says DEA El Paso public information officer and Special Agent Diana Apodaca.

Andes disappeared in 2005. He was last seen driving a black-and-gold Ford Expedition from Winfield, Kan., toward Chicago. He is presumed dead.

Fact checking an informant is especially difficult because the informant’s name doesn’t appear in the court record.

But some corroborating facts do appear in a related case. Byron Segura of El Paso is serving 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty last year to conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs. Although Segura pleaded guilty, he is appealing his sentence to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Details of Andre’s drug operation emerge in the government’s response to that appeal.

Player’s Lounge

According to the U.S. Attorney’s brief filed in December, Segura worked for Andes and took over the cartelito when Andes disappeared.

According to the brief, the feds opened an investigation they called “Operation Player’s Lounge” in May 2002. It was named for the now-defunct Players Lounge on Dyer Street in Northeast El Paso. It was there that Heifner and at least one other informant collected information.

The DEA put Heifner to work in the daytime, too. He was assigned to photograph Andes playing golf with a Mexican drug dealer at Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course. Heifer recalls standing behind some bushes when he heard the telltale rattle of a rattlesnake. He suppressed the urge to run and blow his cover. Instead, he grabbed the snake by the tail end and flung it into the desert.

According to the government’s brief in the Segura case, buyers called Andes and later Segura to arrange the purchase of “multi-kilogram quantities of marijuana.” Andes and Segura arranged for the shipment of dope, collected the proceeds and delivered the cash to suppliers in México.

Soon after Andes disappeared in 2005, the DEA stopped using Heifner as an informant because his connection was gone. Heifner says the people he knew in the cartelito have either been killed or sent to prison. But he thinks the hitman may still be alive.

Aren’t you worried that one of them will get out of prison and come after you? he is asked.

“I put myself in the hands of God,” he replies.

And talking about this, won’t it encourage someone to come after you?

“That’s a risk I have to take. It’s my calling to talk to youth. We aren’t losing the drug war in México. We are losing the drug war in Kansas.”

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8 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

let me first say im glad you turned your life around and have an education now, and are doing better in life for you and your famiy. but also at what cost? Movie and film deal is that what you are looking for? all i want to get off my chest is that idea that you need to be real with yourself, you said By day, I was a grad student, a family man, a church-goer, and by night I was hanging out with unsavory individuals trying to collect information.” those unsavory people were probably once your friends, and all that unsavory stuff they were doing you were doing also. so please when your out there preaching and motivating the world, BE REAL, tell the truth. you were one of those unsavory individuals and you lied and cheated and did all the bad crap they did, you did it too, and you loved it, all the money n the lifestyle!!! then claimed to have tried to step away from it and is now coming back and has me firmly it its talons....be real...you got caught, and lucky and decided on another way out. TO SNITCH on your friends, to watch them pay for what you did too, while you walk free and claim how your such a changed man. please keep spreading your positive word, but dont go teaching our youth that its ok to be a RAT, or that its ok to commit crimes and then snitch to get out of them! im a firm believer if you do the crime then you do the time. also im a HUGE believer in 2nd chances and rehabilitation. i beleive people can change and become model citizens. i also have been in that Bar you gathered your info in, i am a personal friend to Byron Segura. and no i am not defending drug dealers or anyone that commits a crime. but im not condoning anyone who puts some ones name on blast who has children, friends, and a family, in a news artical, whos sitting in jail for crimes that the SNITCH did also. i live in North East El Paso, and im proud, i have love for my city and my people, and i have respect for everyone who has turned their lives around and wants some thing honest and good for themselves and their families. Byron Segura is being a man and serving his time in a prison for the bad choices he made. hes suffering with out his family, and friends and hes missing out on life. and yes thats his fault but apparently also thanks to YOU Chris.

Anonymous said...

Chris is ok to be a snitch, especially drug dealers, they are the lowest of the low, so never too late thank you

Anonymous said...

Its not right to use the real names of the people its really disrespectful to the familys and am not for the drugs...but I dont think u should put the familys personal info out there ....its not there fault n I dont think the children need to read that bout there father! And also u are just as bad cause u couldnt be a man and go down for what you! Also done! So at least he is learning his lesson and taken it all in not like you!

Anonymous said...

U dont know crap!

Winfield Kansas said...

Amazing what you find out about your high school classmates! Wow! I guess drug trafficking is just an Andes Family Tradition!

Anonymous said...

I'm not the one to judge but it seems y'all are all low and crazy...I was in the drug game for almost 10 yrs...you gotta do what you gotta do...I did my time and did it for s friend I grew up with since I was six yrs old...it wasnt even my stuff I went down for..could I have snitched? yes..did I? no...everyone's situation is different...don't judge unless you one day want to be judged by the Man upstairs...God bless you all

Anonymous said...

READ THE BOOK JACKASS he admits fault in all of your claims. He turns informant cause his so called friends put a hit on his family.
Ignorant prick casting stones

Anonymous said...

Also from Winfield Kansas. FYI Winfield classmate, You can't believe everything you read!

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