- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2004

EL PASO, Texas — An unusual narcotics slaying in neighboring Juarez, Mexico, last summer has law-enforcement officials here and in Washington, D.C., asking serious questions about the role of government agencies in handling undercover informants.

Many are critical after disclosures about how the U.S. government failed to halt the killing of a suspected drug dealer in Juarez.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was informed of the “hit” two days beforehand, and handlers and officials listened to the killing of Fernando Reyes Aguado via a cell phone used by the informant, according to a leaked in-house report.

Sources close to the El Paso ICE office say the informant, known by the alias Jesus Contreras, or Agent 913, entered the U.S. Witness Protection Program. They say he might have been involved in five or six other killings.

He reportedly was paid more than $75,000.

“We cannot allow an agent of the federal government to commit a murder,” said Phil Jordan, retired Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor. “There’s no way to justify it.”

ICE officials refused comment, other than to say the matter was under review by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

Some “bad blood” between ICE and the DEA remains, sources told The Washington Times, because Contreras was once involved in an aborted attempt to kill two DEA agents in Juarez. Some DEA agents think ICE was aware of the scheme.

Though the original investigation began with concerns about the Aug. 5, 2003, murder of Reyes, according to federal officials, the investigation has intensified into areas that eventually might change the operational regulations for ICE’s dealing with informants.

Reyes’ tortured body was found along with 11 others buried in the yard of a Juarez house in January. ICE agents — via their informant — had tipped off Mexican authorities, even supplying the address.

The 15-page report cleared up some details in March and provokes strong reaction among some former agents.

Richard Schwein, a former FBI special agent in charge in El Paso, called the actions surprising.

“There are rules,” he said. “You don’t allow an informant to be involved in a violent crime.”

Sources close to the investigation said ICE Agent David Ortiz, the informant’s case agent and “chief handler,” turned in a report of the Juarez killing in mid-August. His superiors rejected the report for an undisclosed reason.

Another agent, Luis Garcia, was assigned to rewrite or edit the report on the informant’s activities, which he finalized on Aug. 25.

The leaked memo was a compilation of events between July 31 and Aug. 5 last year. It said that the informant, after plotting with two off-duty Mexican police officers and a high-ranking member of the Carlos Fuentes drug cartel to kill Reyes, called a supervisory special agent of ICE and relayed the plan.

Two days after that, sources claim, agents listened as the killers beat Reyes with a shovel and strangled him with a plastic bag.

Contreras explained that he had worked with the same two police assassins on five or six other slayings in Juarez. He added that he often helped dispose of the bodies.

Although some sources said the ICE agents heard the Reyes slaying, others claim the informant recorded the scene and handed the tape to ICE handlers hours after the death.

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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