House of Death

Feds shield snitches


Do federal police agencies exist to catch criminals or to protect them? Last July the House Judiciary Committee held hearings in response to a series of high-profile cases in which FBI informants had committed crimes, or in which the agency had protected its informants' identities by withholding evidence that could have prevented innocent people from going to prison. Wayne Murphy, the assistant director of the FBI Directorate of Intelligence, told the committee he could not promise that the FBI would notify local authorities when one of the bureau's confidential informants commits a violent crime, including murder.

In a 2005 study, the Department of Justice's inspector general looked at 120 FBI cases and found that the bureau had violated its own policies regarding the use of informants in 104 of them, or 87 percent of the time. Among the broken rules: failing to notify superiors when an informant commits an unauthorized crime, failing to properly assess an informant's reliability, and failing to conduct required performance reviews of informants.

The problem isn't limited to the FBI. In a series of articles for Narco News, Bill Conroy has investigated what may be the most disturbing informant-related story to date. The "House of Death" is the scene of at least a dozen gruesome drug-related murders in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) knew about the House of Death early on, by way of a federal drug informant named Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, recipient of more than $220,000 from the U.S. government.

Court documents reveal that Peyro, a fairly high-ranking asset in the Juarez drug cartel, not only informed his federal handlers about the murders ahead of time but also participated in them. After his first murder, his startled handlers at ICE asked officials at the Justice Department what to do. They were told to proceed with their investigation. Peyro participated in 11 more murders before Sandy Gonzalez, director of the El Paso DEA office, learned what was happening. Horrified, Gonzalez wrote a letter excoriating his counterpart at ICE for dealing with a "homicidal maniac" like Peyro.

Gonzalez's letter reached the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the desk of DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. But Gonzalez's superiors didn't praise him; they reprimanded him. Tandy and Johnny Sutton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, called him "hysterical," warned him not to talk to the media, and eventually asked him to take an early retirement.

Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and William Delahunt (D-Mass.) plan to introduce legislation that would require the FBI to notify local authorities when one of its informants commits a violent crime. Unfortunately, their bill would apply only to the FBI, not to other federal law enforcement agencies such as ICE or the DEA.