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Mayhem Crosses the Border With Informers

U.S. Agents Recruiting Mexican Drug Figures

In April, a body was found near this spot in Juarez, a city where more than 1,300 people have been killed this year despite President Calderón's war on drug cartels. In the background are the lights of El Paso, just across the border.
In April, a body was found near this spot in Juarez, a city where more than 1,300 people have been killed this year despite President Calderón's war on drug cartels. In the background are the lights of El Paso, just across the border. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 27, 2009

EL PASO -- José Daniel González was living the sweet life in America. He bought the $365,000 two-story Mediterranean with the tile roof and swimming pool. He started a trucking company, was raising a family. But on a Friday night in May, he was executed in his front yard -- eight shots, tight pattern, close range.

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According to police detectives, González knew the man who ordered his killing. He also knew the man who stood on his lawn and watched him die. These things are often personal, especially among high-level drug traffickers.

A gangland-style slaying is no big news across the river in Ciudad Juarez, the bloodiest city in Mexico, where more than 1,300 people have been killed this year and only a handful of cases have been solved, despite the presence of 10,000 soldiers and federal police officers as part of President Felipe Calderón's war on drug cartels.

But in El Paso, where local leaders boast how safe their city is and the 12 homicides this year have almost all been solved, the González slaying was as disturbing as it was sensational. For people here, the blood splashed on a pretty American street was a jarring sign that Mexico's drug violence is spilling across the border into U.S. suburbia.

Most unsettling for many, especially El Paso police officials, was that both González and the man accused of ordering his killing turned out to be ranking drug traffickers from the notorious Juarez cartel, as well as informers for the U.S. government.

"So this is how these people end up in our country," said El Paso police Lt. Alfred Lowe, the lead homicide detective and a 29-year veteran whose team made the arrests in the González case. "We bring them here."

As a spectacular wave of drug violence washes over Mexico, the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress and leaders in the Southwest states are spending billions of dollars and massing thousands of agents to keep the chaos from crossing the border. But in order to fight the drug traffickers, federal anti-narcotics agents have brought Mexican cartel members north of the border, to use them to gather intelligence and build cases.

That has also led to friction between U.S. law enforcement agencies. El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, who lives close to the González home and heard the shots the night of the slaying, said he has complained to federal counterparts about a lack of cooperation and information sharing. Allen told reporters that he raised those complaints in meetings with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, which, according to police and charging documents, arranged for González's visa so he could live in the United States.

Lowe said ICE agents were uncooperative during the investigation, misleading El Paso officers by failing to provide accurate names, photographs of suspects and timely intelligence that might have helped solve the homicide more quickly.

"We've never worked well with ICE," Lowe said.

ICE officials declined to comment on the specifics of the González case or the conduct and cooperation of their agents. "As a matter of policy, we don't confirm or deny confidential sources or sources of information," said Richard Rocha, spokesman for ICE in Washington. "All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously and, if reported, will be fully reviewed."

As the investigation into the González killing progressed this summer, police said they were further surprised to learn that the man charged with orchestrating the slaying was a fellow drug cartel member, a specialist in assassination -- and a federal informer for ICE living in El Paso.


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