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by Michael Webster Investigative Reporter
Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2008 at 3:07 PM
email@example.com 949 494-7121
Did U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes and ICE conspire in illegal activity?
By Michael Webster: Investigative Reporter July 6, 2008 3:00 P.M. PDT
The Washington Post reports that U.S. law enforcement authorities helped facilitate a ,000 ransom payment in Mexico for a relative of a U.S. congressman who was kidnapped by gunmen in Ciudad Juarez, a border city across from El Paso Texas with rampant drug smuggling, gunfights and corruption.
According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asked for an investigation into Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) recent efforts in procuring the release of a Mexican woman kidnapped in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The family raised the money, according to the memo. On June 21, two men on a motorcycle collected the ransom money at a Juarez street corner but sped off and eluded investigators who had staked out the drop site.
Mrs. Posselt was released several hours later, and Mexican authorities quickly transferred her to their American counterparts, who rushed her to the United States for "security reasons," according to the ICE memo.
No arrests have been made.
On June 19, 2008, ICE was contacted by an aide to Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the influential and powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence which has oversight responsibilities for the Department of Homeland Security, the parent department of ICE, asked for ICE to help arrange the release of Mexican National Erika Posselt a relative of the congressman’s wife who had been kidnapped for ransom from a business she owns in Mexico.
ICE officials admit they responded to the Congressman’s request and contacted Mexican authorities to coordinate efforts to recover Ms. Posselt. It was learned that ICE officials than met with Mexican authorities in El Paso Texas to workout out a strategy.
Washington, D.C. ICE higher ups then offered their technical assistance. Just what that was they won't say.
However on June 22nd, Ms. Posselt and another hostage were released. Ms. Posselt a Mexican citizen was then transported to the United States at U.S. government expense.
U.S. policy prohibits federal agencies from negotiating with kidnappers in ransom demands for U.S. citizens. It is not clear how the policy pertains to the involvement of U.S. agencies in the kidnapping of noncitizens such as Mr. Reyes' relative.
But law enforcement authorities indicated the Mexican case could have set a dangerous precedent.
Sandalio "Sandy" Gonzalez, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration senior executive service supervisor who headed all of DEA's operations in West Texas and New Mexico, said it was natural to reach out to help a relative, but U.S. authorities lacked jurisdiction in the case.
"The question to ask is whether ICE would have gotten involved if it had been a U.S. citizen or someone not related to a member of Congress," he said. "The answer, of course, would be no."
CREW’s letter to Secretary Chertoff asked him to immediately order an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding ICE’s involvement in the matter to determine the nature of the inquiry by Cong. Reyes’ office, whether Reyes or ICE had the legal authority to intercede in this matter, why ICE chose to get involved in this matter, whether the State Department was consulted, and whether ICE has offered assistance in other cases involving foreign nationals kidnapped on foreign soil.
The question remains “Did ICE officials assist in resolving a foreign kidnapping simply because the victim is related to a powerful member of Congress? Some say that the U.S. Attorney General should be looking into the matter.
CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan stated, “While the release of any kidnapping victim is always a positive development, this matter raises serious questions about whether the congressman and ICE acted appropriately here.” While Congressman Reyes undoubtedly was overwhelmed by concern for his relative, officials with more objectivity should have been considering the greater political and policy issues raised by ICE’s intercession.”
According to official statements "ICE received information from an individual about an alleged crime that had recently occurred. They claimed they quickly passed that information along to the appropriate law enforcement agency - in this case the Mexican attorney general's office of Chihuahua, Mexico - for its action.
The question remains however do congressman and do ICE authorities take this action in cases involving Mexican nationals? Former U.S. government attorney Lance Witaker says no! This is the first time in recent memory that such action has been taken to my knowledge.
ICE insists that they only responded in the matter at the request of Mexican law enforcement. ICE says they only provided support in the form of technical
assistance, logistical assistance in the form of secure office space in ICE offices the U.S. and Mexico for the purpose of facilitating communication with U.S. citizens and other sources of information who
might have information on the case, transportation, and interviews of individuals in the United States who were believed to have information related to the kidnapping.
This type of law enforcement cooperation and
mutual assistance is standard practice according to ICE. Contrary to some media reports, ICE had no role in the negotiation of the release of the individual or
provision of ransom in this case ICE told the media.
ICE claims that this type of international law enforcement cooperation is not unusual.
In any case where ICE is provided credible and specific information related to ongoing serious criminal conduct, we would seek to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and offer assistance upon request. An ICE spokesperson said.
There are many other Mexican citizens missing in Mexico today. Does ICE get involved in those cases? No they don’t according to a Washington insider who wants to remain anonymous.
There are currently more than two dozen U.S. citizens who have disappeared in Mexico. Two former federal officials call Reyes' role, and the agency responses of ICE and the FBI, into question. [link]
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D.-Texas said he believes U.S. law enforcement at the local, state, and federal level are "doing their best," but that Mexico is a sovereign nation and does not ordinarily view solving these cases as a priority.
"The problem is the jurisdiction of another country," said Cuellar, whose constituency includes the border town of Laredo - Nuevo Laredo, Mexico is less than one mile away. "If it was people missing on this side, I think we would be talking about another story."
But even in the cases of Americans who traveled from the U.S. to Mexico and were never seen again, up until this incident it has always been up to the Mexicans to solve these cases. Never do American agencies try and help Mexico with there missing or kidnapped citizens if they were kidnapped in Mexico and not in the U.S.
How do you normally get the Mexican government to respond to Americans being kidnapped in Mexico? He then used the word "frustrated" to describe how he and the families whose relatives have disappeared in Mexico feel as years pass without any concrete information about what happened to their loved ones.
The U.S. State Department does not make public the number of Americans who are kidnapped or missing aboard, or who have been kidnapped on American soil and taken forcefully to another country like Mexico, a fact Cuellar and many others find unacceptable.
"I think that information should be available," Cuellar said. "I will be talking to the State Department about that."
Cuellar said he has made violence along the U.S.-Mexico border a priority in his two terms in Congress. But he said he became acutely aware of how many families had lost loved ones in Mexico when William Slemaker, who lives in Laredo, contacted his office in early 2005.
Slemaker's stepdaughter, Yvette Martinez, and her friend, Brenda Cisneros, went to Nuevo Laredo to see a concert on Sept. 17, 2004, and never returned home. As Slemaker searched for his daughter, he discovered that many other families had experienced the same kind of tragedy. With the help of friends, Slemaker started the Web site laredosmissing.com to draw attention to the dozens of Americans in Laredo who have gone missing in Mexico.
Cuellar said he has worked to try to bring attention to Slemaker's daughter and the missing relatives of other American families, including writing letters to President Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nevada). Aside from acknowledging they had received the letters, nothing was done, Cuellar said.
Cuellar said he has also contacted Mexican President Felipe Calderon and has met with other high-ranking Mexican authorities, including Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, the Mexican attorney general, with no tangible results.
The most promising response, Cuellar said, came from U.S. Ambassador Antonio Garza, who about two years ago formed a joint task force consisting of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement personnel. The idea was to encourage cooperation to solve violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including the cases of Americans who disappeared in Mexico.
To date, however, Cuellar could not say what the task force has accomplished.
"I want to do everything possible to get answers," Cuellar said. "They definitely have to give the families closure."
Neither ICE nor Congressman Reyes has offered to help with even Americans who have been kidnapped in Mexico. How is it that a Mexican national kidnapped in her own country by her own countryman is able to get an Untied States Congressman and ICE a U.S. government agency to intervene and work with the Mexican government to find and bring the Mexican citizen to the USA. Go figure!
Reyes has issued a statement as questions mount about his and ICE’s efforts on behalf of a kidnapped Mexican national in Mexico.
The following statement was released by the Office of Congressman Silvestre Reyes, following reports that a relative of Rep. Silvestre Reyes was kidnapped in Juárez, Mexico. This statement may be attributed to Vincent Perez, a spokesman for Congressman Silvestre Reyes:
“Congressman Reyes is grateful that the victim is safe. The kidnapping victim is not the Congressman’s sister-in-law, as has been reported. The victim, whom the Congressman has never met, is a distant relative of the Congressman’s wife, and it does not appear that she was targeted because of her connection to the Congressman’s relatives.
“Whenever the Office of Congressman Silvestre Reyes is notified of a potential criminal matter, the incident is immediately reported to law enforcement, particularly when an individual may be in imminent danger.
This kidnapping was reported to Congressman Reyes’s district office by the victim’s family, who are citizens of the United States and constituents of the 16th District of Texas. The Congressman’s staff immediately notified law enforcement authorities. We notify law enforcement in these circumstances without regard to the victim’s identity, country of citizenship, or legal status.
“Congressman Reyes was informed of the incident by his staff after law enforcement had been notified. While the Congressman was kept apprised of the situation, he had no other role. Any suggestion that Congressman Reyes somehow influenced the actions of law enforcement is false.
“As always, the Congressman is appreciative of the efforts by law enforcement officers, on both sides of the border, which led to the victim’s safe return.”
U.S. Congressman Reye’s Offices
Relatives of U.S. citizens who have disappeared in Mexico complain about a lack of help from Reyes or ICE in the past. [link]
The article in the Web site Narconews, which was first to break the story and to post copies of an internal ICE document that indicated Reyes' involvement. [link]
Two former federal officials call Reyes' role, and the agency responses of ICE and the FBI, into question. [link]
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