Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

— Domani Spero
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In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[…]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
[…]
According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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State Dept Employee Shot to Death in His Car in Miami

— Domani Spero

Via Local10.com

Local news in Miami is reporting the death over the weekend of Deron Swain, a State Department employee assigned at the Miami Passport Office.  No one besides Local10 is reporting the death at this time.  Miami PD has yet to release a statement.

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US Embassy Greece: What Happened to Sgt Laloup’s Heart? Parents Seeking Answers File Suit

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— Domani Spero

According to a lawsuit filed by his parents, U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, 21, died after he attended an off-duty embassy party, on August 12, 2012. Sgt. LaLoup served as part of the Marine Corps Security Group assigned to the American Embassy in Athens, Greece. During the party, Sgt. LaLoup reportedly told a fellow service member that he was thinking about suicide and was reported to the Detachment Commander.  The lawsuit alleged that the Detachment Commander “failed to follow appropriate protocols and procedures, which required him to obtain supervision and medical treatment for Sgt. LaLoup, and instead decided to take him out for more drinking. Prior to leaving and despite being visibly intoxicated and distraught, Sgt. LaLoup was allowed to pass the guard at the entry to the chancery and enter the response room. The chancery, which had been left unsecured, is where weapons were stored. Thereafter, according to military reports, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head with an embassy service weapon.”

Sergeant LaLoup enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on May 8, 2008 and was on continuous active duty from February 9, 2009 until the date of his death.  Prior to his assignment in Greece, Sgt. Laloup was posted at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.  Sgt. LaLoup reported for embassy security duty at Embassy Athens on May 20, 2012, On August 12, 2012, the United States Marne Corps informed Beverly and Craig LaLoup that their son had passed away.

The lawsuit alleged that at the time his body was returned to the United States, Plaintiffs, Sgt. LaLoup’s parents, Craig and Beverly LaLoup, were given knowingly false information about Sgt. LaLoup’s remains and as a result, “the LaLoups unwittingly buried their son without his heart.” According to Mrs. LaLoup:

1St SGT Dixon was at our home at 106 Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, PA to have us sign more papers. During this visit, I asked him what would happen if more of Brian’s scalp was recovered. Would it be returned to us? He looked at me funny as he started to go thru his folder and said “Ma’am, what are you talking about?” I replied, the missing scalp parts. What would be done if more was recovered. He replied to me, as he was still searching for something in his folder, that the scalp is not what was missing. He even stated that he had just gone thru the folder before he came to make sure he was familiar with everything and did not recall seeing anything about missing scalp parts. We all sat there for a few moments as he continued to go thru his folder. Finally, he found what he was looking for and said, “Ma’am, that is not what was missing.” “I stated, what do you mean?” He extended to me a piece of paper as he stated it was his heart that was missing asked him why were we told it was parts of his scalp. His reply was, “that they were not going to tell us because that is not something you tell a grieving mother.” I read the document he had handed me and sure enough, it was a letter from the Dover Mortuary to Marines Casualty Office informing them “remains of the above individual are incomplete. Please obtain subsequent recovery instructions from the next of kin. Remains Summary: Non-intact body. Embalmed and autopsied in Greece. Missing heart”. It was validated by Jairo E. Fortalatin, Investigator and Authorized by AbuBakr Marzouuk, Col USAF, MC, FS.

The complaint further alleges that “in an attempt to pacify” the Laloups, the defendants and the Greek government “had a heart shipped to Dover claiming that it was Sgt. LaLoup’s missing heart” but that DNA testing revealed that the heart was not Sgt. LaLoup’s heart.

Philadelphia’s Metro reports that a letter shared through U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey’s office quotes the then U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Smith about the efforts made to prevent an autopsy.

Smith told the hospital not to autopsy LaLoup’s body, and also notified the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the letter. When Smith’s staff requested the hospital release LaLoup’s body on Aug. 16, they declined and said they would autopsy the body. Smith says he called the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister insisting there be no autopsy, and on Aug. 17 called again to say that an autopsy would violate the Vienna Convention.

The autopsy took place on Aug. 18. After the LaLoups told Smith on Sept. 18 that Sgt. LaLoup’s body was missing its heart, his staff interviewed the physician who performed the autopsy.

Ambassador Daniel Smith was appointed chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 2010.  In October last year, President Obama nominated him to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (State/INR). He is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.

Last month, the Laloups reportedly added the Greek government and the Athens hospital that conducted the autopsy to the list of defendants to their lawsuit. Philly.com’s report here includes a quote from the spokesman of the  Armed Forces Medical Examiner System:

“Remains of most U.S. service members who die overseas are sent to the United States for autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. However, some countries – including Greece – maintain the right in formal agreements with the U.S. military to investigate such deaths using their own medical staff.”

The complaint is  LALOUP et al v. UNITED STATES DEPT. OF DEFENSE et al, Pennsylvania Eastern District Court, 2:2013cv07124.

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US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed

— By Domani Spero

On September 15, the US Embassy in Kabul released a statement by Jillian Burns, the Consul General of Consulate Herat. The statement noted the death of one Afghan policeman and eight guards from the Afghan Local Guard Force during the September 13 attack on the consulate but did not give any indication on how many were wounded.   It also announced Gene Young , her successor as Consul and Senior Civilian Representative in Herat.   Mr. Young until recently was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Ljubljana, in Slovenia.

Related post: Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat: Locals Reportedly Killed/Wounded,  No American Casualties. Also read The Skeptical Bureaucrat’s post U.S. Consulate Herat: Attack Defeated But Local Guards Killed

Photo via USConsulate Herat/FB

Photo via USConsulate Herat/FB

Statement by Jillian Burns, Consul General, U.S. Consulate Herat, Afghanistan | September 15, 2013

First, I want to express my personal condolences and those of the entire Consulate to the families of the eight Afghan Consulate guard staff and the one Afghan police officer who lost their lives defending our diplomatic facility against this senseless attack.

On September 11, I saw our local guards outside cheering joyfully with passersby on the occasion of Afghanistan’s win in the South Asia football championship, and I remarked to myself what a wonderful sign it was of normalcy returning to Afghanistan.  Two days later, those guards prevented insurgents from entering the Consulate.  These heroes, who work day and night to protect me and my American, Afghan, and third country national colleagues, train vigorously for the event we all hope will never happen.  We are forever grateful for the sacrifice these men made on our behalf.

We wish a speedy recovery to all those injured in the attack: guards; police; and civilians.  Many others suffered from broken property, downed power lines, and damage to one of Herat’s most important trade routes.

As terrible as the attack was, it could have been far worse.  Our security measures were effective. The attackers were quickly defeated; our internal perimeter was not breached.  The rapid reaction of our guard force, Afghan National Security Forces, and ISAF military units was critical in preventing further loss of life both inside and outside our Consulate walls.  We will never forget the sight of hundreds of security officials coming to our aid.  We have been heartened by the many calls and statements of support condemning this senseless act of violence, particularly from Herat Governor Syed Fazlullah Wahidi.  President Karzai and the United Nations Security Council also denounced the attack.

Even in these circumstances, the Consulate never closed, and we are now focused on the future.  I will remain in Herat with members of my team these last few days of my assignment here, and then welcome Gene Young as the new Consul and Senior Civilian Representative.  We are assessing the damage to our facility and making future plans.  Our mission has not changed –to strengthen ties between Afghanistan and the United States and to work with Afghans and the international community for Afghanistan’s political, social and economic development.  Anyone willing to commit murder to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a stable, prosperous nation should be condemned.  We will work with Afghan authorities to bring those responsible to justice and to save the lives of other innocents.   In the meantime, we pay tribute to the many heroes of Afghanistan who have given their lives to protect the lives of others.

The original statement is available here.

On September 13, delmarvanow.com carried an interview with Ms. Burns husband, David Burns, a professor in the Salisbury University department of communications.

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US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia

—By Domani Spero
On June 21, DEA announced the death of Special Agent James “Terry” Watson, who was murdered in “what appears to have been a robbery attempt” Thursday night in Bogota, Colombia. At the time of his death, Special Agent Watson was assigned to the DEA Cartagena, Colombia office and was on temporary duty in Bogota.

“We are all saddened by this devastating loss of a member of the DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Terry was a brave and talented DEA Special Agent who served our agency for 13 years. These are the worst days for anyone in law enforcement and we grieve Terry’s loss.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Terry’s wife and family, and we will forever carry his memory in our hearts.”

According to the DEA, Special Agent Watson had served in Honolulu, Hawaii and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Prior to his assignment in Bogota, he also served on three deployments to Afghanistan conducting dangerous counter-narcotics missions as a member of DEA’s FAST program.  Special Agent Watson previously worked for the U.S. Marshals Service and served in the United States Army.

NBC News reports that the U.S Ambassador to Colombia Peter Michael McKinley told Caracol Radio that this appeared to be a run-of-the-mill robbery gone wrong and it did not appear that the agent was targeted.  Special Agent Watson reportedly had been watching the NBA finals with friends in the city’s fashionable Parque de la 93 district and had jumped into a taxi after the game.

Local media described this incident as a “paseo millonario,” a term for an express kidnapping. Although the OSAC Crime and Security report did not use this term, it details this crime as follows:

A common trend in cases of taxi-related crime is when the victim has been riding alone and has hailed a taxi on the street. Usually, the taxi driver will stop abruptly to allow a counterpart to enter the vehicle. The two individuals will then rob the passenger and in some cases bring the passenger to as many ATMs as possible.

The latest Crime and Security report says that Bogotá is rated “High” for terrorism, residential crime, non-residential crime, and political violence.  Post is rated 20% for cost of living, 5% for hardship and 15% for danger.

According to the embassy’s security office, the most prevalent threat to Americans on a daily basis is street crime. The most common types of crime include, but are not limited to, muggings, assaults, general thefts, credit card fraud, and burglaries. Criminals are quick to resort to physical assault and commonly use knives and firearms in the commission of crimes.

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US Mission South Africa: FS Employee Christopher Bates Dead in Jo’burg

Various press outlets reported the death of a USG employee in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sunday.  Today, the embassy spokesperson Jack Hillmeyer confirmed the death and identified the deceased:

The U.S. Embassy confirms the death of Consulate General Johannesburg employee Christopher “Norm” Bates on January 13, 2013.  Bates has been assigned as the Information Management Officer at Consulate Johannesburg since 2010.  He was an 11 year employee of the Department of State and had previously served at U.S. embassies in Senegal, Kenya, and Lesotho.

The circumstances surrounding his death are being investigated by the South African Police.  The State Department’s Diplomatic security staff is cooperating with the police investigation.

We are saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend.  Our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.

Local news cited Gauteng police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini saying that the consulate employee was seen driving into Oxford Gardens on Oxford Road in Illovo with a 29-year-old woman at about 3am.  The woman was later alleged to have a knife in her hand and the victim stabbed on the upper body.  The consulate employee was reported to have died at the scene and the woman was arrested by local police.

The US Mission in South Africa includes approximately 310 U.S. and 560 locally engaged staff employed by 28 U.S. Government departments and agencies. In addition to the Embassy in Pretoria, we have Consulate Generals in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

We will update if we learn more.

 

George Anikow Murder: “A Macho Against Macho Issue” Says Philippine Police

The Marine Corps Times has additional details about George Anikow, a US Marine and spouse of US Embassy diplomat, Laura Anikow who was killed in Makati last weekend.

Anikow, of Monmouth, N.J., served eight years as an infantry officer on active duty after his commissioning in 1994 and was working as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee in a joint billet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Maj. Kate S. Vanden Bossche, a Marine Forces Reserve spokeswoman in New Orleans. The assignment allowed him to drill as a reservist and work in the Philippines, she said.
[…]
In recent years, Anikow was mobilized twice as a civil affairs officer, including a nine-month combat tour in Afghanistan in 2009, according to Marine Corps records. While there, he served with the 4th Civil Affairs Group. During his earlier active-duty time, Anikow deployed on the amphibious assault ship Guam during the 1996 operations Joint Endeavor and Assured Response.

He received numerous military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two awards of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, three awards of the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

According to the Philippine Inquirer, the Makati police denied reports that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation  is conducting a parallel probe on this murder.  The Makati police chief, by the way, is reportedly a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia:

“There is no parallel investigation. The FBI is not meddling in the case,” Lukban said, adding that a US government official had just contacted him about minor details, such as the transport of Anikow’s body to the United States.

He said the US government had also promised technical assistance, including enhancing the CCTV footage the police had obtained.

The Philippine presidential office said it hoped the Anikow incident would not lead to a travel advisory against the Philippines. It’s Department of Foreign Affairs called the incident an “isolated case,” saying there is no reason for foreign diplomats in the country to feel unsafe.

A Diplomatic Security report indicates that from January to November 2011, the Philippine National Police recorded 230,817 crime incidents. This number represents a significant reduction in crimes compared to the reported total in 2009 which is 333,416. For 2011, physical assault and theft were the two largest contributors to the total number of incidents in a country of 7,100 islands inhabited by 94,852,030 people.

News from Manila seems to indicate that male pride was the motive behind the killing George Anikow outside an upscale subdivision.

“The suspects, being male, their pride was stepped on by another man. That’s the very simple reason for the incident,” Makati police chief Senior Supt Manuel Lukban explained during an interview.

“It seems their manhood was challenged. It became a macho against macho issue,” said Senior Superintendent Lukban.

Apparently the victim tapped on the car and that irked one of the alleged attackers. We have thought about the notion that a wounded male pride can lead to a murder and could not quite wrap our mind around that. Is life so cheap there that a perceived offense could not be resolved without spilling blood?  But this is also a country where you reportedly can even hire tandem hitmen for a little more than a couple hundred dollars.

Below is an excerpt from Get Real Philippines, a blog that should be part of FSI’s Overseas Briefing Center resources for FS employees researching about prospective assignment to the Philippines.

George Anikow murder: Violence is a broad and profound cultural condition in Philippine society

Again we encounter another instance of the violent nature of Filipinos — a people expats have for so long warned one shouldn’t cross as they (1) don’t fight fair and (2) hold deadly unshakable grudges. Last night saw the murder of George Anikow, a former US Marine officer and spouse of a US Embassy staff member allegedly in the hands of a gang of enraged Filipino men at the gate of posh Makati village Bel Air. What was initially a mild altercation between Anikow and the party of four young men reportedly turned into a brawl that left Anikow mortally wounded from stab wounds.

One can understand getting beat up in a brawl. But to wield a knife in one is just so, well, Pinoy. For a nation that idolises boxers, one wonders why the idea of fighting fair mano-y-mano seems lost in the typical Filipino male.
[..]
This is after all a nation where assassins riding tandem on motorcycles can be hired for a hit for no more than Php10,000 (a little more than USD200). It is quite amazing that the Philippines is not on Uncle Sam’s permanent travel ban list. The simplest misunderstanding, misconstrued look, or unintended slight can provoke a massive feudal vendetta that could last generations. It seems to all stem from the world-renowned pipsqueak ego of the Filipino…
[…]
The Filipino’s taste for petty violence has spawned lively viral video circuses many times. Recall the Thrilla in NAIA involving Ramon Tulfo, Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto, Robert Carabuna vs the MMDA, and other such nuggets of Pinoy class. Perhaps there is something to be said about the way Filipino men are raised — or not raised as the case may be for the entire generation of Filipinos absentee-parented by the modern-day “heroes” of this sad nation, the Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW).

Read in full here. Given that the presidential palace’s immediate reaction concerned a travel advisory, the Get Real Philippines blog post just sent Malacanang into an apoplectic shock.

Rappler.com noted that the Anikow killing is the first of a foreign diplomat’s family member in the Philippines since the famous Hultman-Chapman case.  That’s the case where Claudio Teehankee Jr., son of the late chief justice Claudio Teehankee, was convicted of murdering two people, one of them the son of a US Embassy employee, inside Dasmariñas subdivision also in Makati.  Teehankee Jr. served 17 years in jail and was granted a presidential pardon in 2008.

 

 

 

 

Barrio Azteca Leader Extradited to the US for US Consulate Cd. Juarez Murders

Via USDOJ | Friday, June 29, 2012

Barrio Azteca Leader Extradited from Mexico to United States to Face Charges Related to the U.S. Consulate Murders in Juarez, Mexico

An alleged leader of the Barrio Azteca (BA), a transnational border gang allied with the Juarez Cartel, was extradited from Mexico to the United States to face charges related to the March 2010 U.S. Consulate murders in Juarez, Mexico, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Morgan of the FBI’s El Paso Office and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today.

Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, aka “Benny,” arrived in the United States yesterday and made his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Castaneda in El Paso, Texas.   Gallegos Castrellon was charged in a 12-count third superseding indictment unsealed in March 2011.

“We allege that Gallegos Castrellon participated in the U.S. Consulate shootings in March 2010,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.   “His extradition to the United States is an important step forward in our pursuit of justice for the victims of those tragic murders in Juarez, Mexico.   Innocent men and women on both sides of our border with Mexico should not have to live in fear of Barrio Azteca and other violent criminal gangs.”

[…]

A total of 35 BA members and associates based in the United States and Mexico were charged in the third superseding indictment for allegedly committing various criminal acts, including racketeering, narcotics distribution and importation, retaliation against persons providing information to U.S. law enforcement, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice and murder.   Of the 35 defendants, 10 Mexican nationals, including Gallegos Castrellon, were charged with the March 13, 2010, murders in Juarez, Mexico, of U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a U.S. Consulate employee.

Of the 35 defendants charged, 33 have been apprehended, including April Cardoza, who was found in Juarez, Mexico, last week.   Twenty-four of those defendants have pleaded guilty, one defendant committed suicide while imprisoned during his trial and six others are pending extradition from Mexico.   U.S. and Mexican law enforcement are actively seeking to apprehend the two remaining fugitives in this case, Luis Mendez and Eduardo Ravelo, an FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive.

According to court documents and information presented in court throughout this case, the Barrio Azteca is a violent street and prison gang that began in the late 1980s and expanded into a transnational criminal organization.   In the 2000s, the BA formed an alliance in Mexico with “La Linea,” which is part of the Juarez Drug Cartel (also known as the Vincente Carrillo Fuentes Drug Cartel or “VCF”).   The purpose of the BA-La Linea alliance was to battle the Chapo Guzman Cartel and its allies for control of the drug trafficking routes through Juarez and Chihuahua.   The drug routes through Juarez, known as the Juarez Plaza, are important to drug trafficking organizations because they are a principal illicit drug trafficking conduit into the United States.

The gang has a militaristic command structure and includes captains, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers – all with the purpose of maintaining power and enriching its members and associates through drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, intimidation, violence, threats of violence and murder.

According to court documents, Gallegos Castrellon allegedly participated in BA activities, including narcotics trafficking and acts of violence by BA members, both in Mexico and the United States.   Gallegos Castrellon allegedly participated in the March 2010 murders in Juarez, Mexico, of U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a U.S. Consulate employee.

If convicted, Gallegos Castrellon faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.   He is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Gallegos Castrellon’s extradition is the result of close coordination between U.S. law enforcement and the government of Mexico in the investigation and prosecution of this case.  The cooperation and assistance of the government of Mexico was essential to achieving the successful extradition.

Yesterday, three of Gallegos Castrellon’s co-defendants were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Western District Court of Texas to 20 years, 30 years and life in prison.   The sentencings mark the closure of the case against the U.S.-based defendants charged in the superseding indictment.   Twenty-one of 22 U.S.-based defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced, including another BA Lieutenant Roberto Angel Cardona, who was also sentenced to life by Judge Cardone on Feb. 14, 2012.   The remaining U.S.-based defendant, Ramon Renteria, aka “Spooky,” took his own life while in prison during his trial.   Witnesses testified that Renteria was a BA Captain, the highest rank of the Barrio Azteca, and the only U.S.-based Captain not currently serving a life sentence in prison.

Read in full here.

We still don’t have confirmation on how these three individuals connected to the US Consulate General in Juarez killed in March 2010 got into the cross hairs of this border gang.
Domani Spero
Related posts:

Remembrances Around the Foreign Service on Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. It was was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  It is observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May.

Excerpt from General Logan’s 1868 order:

All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

Below are some photos from US missions marking the day of remembrance overseas:

US Embassy Manila, Philippines

Memorial Day 2011:  An American boy plants American and Philippine flags beside a cross that marks one of the 17,000 graves in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City on May 28 as part of the U.S. observance of Memorial Day. On May 29, U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. led representatives of the American community and guests in a ceremony at the Memorial to pay tribute to the soldiers of the U.S. and its allies who have fallen in defense of freedom and democracy. The 152-acre cemetery and memorial in Manila has the largest number of graves of U.S. soldiers who died in World War II. The graves include those of 570 Filipinos who served with the U.S. Forces in the Southwest Pacific.

Memorial Day, May 27, 2012.  Chargé d’Affaires Leslie A. Bassett offers a wreath in honor of all Veterans this Memorial Day, at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, Philippines.
(Photo from US Embassy Manila)

US Embassy Montevideo, Uruguay

May 31, 2010. A U.S. Marine replaces a worn out flag at the grave site of a young sailor, honoring fallen U.S. servicemen buried at the British Cemetery in Montevideo [U.S. Embassy photo by Vince Alongi]

US Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti

Mike Lombardo, regional security officer for U.S. Embassy, Djibouti, gives the opening remarks during a Ceremony at Cimetiere non Mulilman de Djibouti, May 31. The Memorial Day Ceremony honored Pilot Officer Lawrence Maguire, an American who volunteered for the Canadian air force, one of the many military members who gave their lives during World War II. Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett

US Embassy Tunis, Tunisia

U.S. Army Col. Warren P. Gunderman, a military representative at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, lays a wreath Monday during a Memorial Day service at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial near Carthage, Tunisia. Photo by US Army Africa

US Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas

US Embassy observed Memorial day with a Wreath Laying Ceremony at Clifton Pier. On Monday, May 31, 2010 the United States Embassy observed Memorial Day with a wreath laying ceremony at Clifton Pier in memory of fallen service men and women. Special recognition was given to the U.S. Patrol Squadron 23 Sailors, who perished off the coast of Nassau on May 7, 1954.

US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Maj. Gen. Mark Zamzow, bow their heads during a moment of silence. Troops deployed to Iraq hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Denny Cantrell | 05.26.2008

US Embassy Tallinn, Estonia

U.S. Embassy Tallinn Recognizes Memorial Day – May 30, 2011
(Photo from US Embassy Tallinn/Flickr)

US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Memorial Day, Kabul 2010
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

Plaque “In memory of Ambassador Adolp ‘Spike’ Dubs, Killed in Kabul on February 14, 1979”
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, DEA Regional Director Michael T. Marsac, program analyst Lisa Hostettler, Assistant Regional Director Craig Wiles and secretary Teresa Hernandez near a marker for DEA Special Agents Forrest N. Leamon, Michael E. Weston and Chad L. Michael at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 2011. (Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

Memorial Day Service at Old St Paul’s, Wellington – May 30, 2011
(Photo from US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr)
Click here for slideshow

Memorial Day 2012 | This Memorial Day the people of Kapiti Coast on the North Island of New Zealand unveiled a memorial to the 10 U.S. sailors who died during a training exercise while trying to come ashore on June 20, 1943. About 350 people, including Charge d’Affaires Marie Damour and a U.S. Marine Color guard, were there for the dedication of the memorial, sculptured into the shape of a landing craft, close to the waters where the tragedy occurred. Read more here.
(Photo from US Embassy NZ/Flickr)

Something more to remember – below is a photo from Kabul, Afghanistan, April 10, 2006: The U.S. Embassy in Kabul renamed a camp in honor of Diplomatic Security Special Agent Eric Sullivan, who was killed on September 19, 2005, during a terrorist attack on his motorcade in Mosul, Iraq. Camp Sullivan is a self-contained facility for the local guard force that provides protection to all official U.S. facilities in Kabul. During Special Agent Sullivan’s career with the Diplomatic Security Service he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq.

State Department photo

Domani Spero

 

 

 

The View From Barbados: George Gaines Case, “the matter is more than a little troubling”

We’ve blogged about the passing of RSO George Gaines in Barbados recently.  Read US Embassy Barbados: Death of the Regional Security Officer and US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural” Investigation Ongoing.

On May 18, Barbados Nation reported that there will be no local autopsy or coroner’s inquest into the death of the embassy’s Regional Security Officer:

“In an unusual twist, the body of the 51-year-old security official was flown to his United States homeland Wednesday, following high-level talks between United States Embassy and Government officials. The United States Consulate had reportedly made a request for Gaines’ body to be sent to his homeland for forensic investigations to determine the cause of death.”

The following day, Barbados’ Nation News articulated its concerns about the handling of the death case in an editorial titled, Diplomacy vs sovereignty, and questioned why the body was “flown home with dispatch.”  See below, the original piece is posted here.

Sat, May 19, 2012 – 12:00 AM
WE TEND TO THINK that diplomatic immunity should not be tantamount to a host country’s loss of national sovereignty.

With that in mind, we are more than a little concerned about the handling of the case of well known United States Embassy official George Gaines, who died recently on these shores as a result of an apparent suicide but whose body has been flown home with dispatch, without the lawful and routine coroner’s inquest or even an autopsy, which would have taken less than a day.

Has expertise

Even if the autopsy had to be executed in the strict presence of American officials, it is obvious that Barbados has the requisite expertise to carry out such a procedure, if only for the record.

The circumstances of this matter have been extreme, to say the least: a man has died in unnatural circumstances, not within the confines of the United States Embassy or even its environs, but on a public beach at Dover, Christ Church. Following this, the Embassy’s counsellor for public affairs Rebecca Ross merely added to the mystery by saying officials were treating the death as a “private matter”, and asking the local media to “respect the privacy of the family”.

Does diplomatic immunity mean privacy about a death on a public beach in our own country? Had Gaines’ body not been found in a public place, would Barbadians have been informed at all then?

The Embassy’s position, even in the face of a high-level security official’s death, pushes us to wonder about the United States of America’s view of Barbados.

We ask, without prejudice, whether that country’s respect for anyone’s sovereignty is merely convenient, and whether countries like ours are seen as mere assets rather than the “partners” we and our CARICOM sister states are often touted to be.

Since no one in Barbados could officially touch Gaines’ body, how could Barbados exonerate itself in the event of any finding other than apparent suicide? And if the Barbados Government has indeed satisfied itself that there has been absolutely no need for a local autopsy, where is the official record to satisfy the people of Barbados, who deserve to know – after all, he died in our midst.

Investigation

While we pride ourselves on having a free Press and access to information, this matter begs for investigation at the highest level.

We shouldn’t have to wait to hear its details on CNN or FOX NEWS. We can’t help but say the matter is more than a little troubling – in terms of both diplomacy and sovereignty.

The dead have no use for diplomatic immunity and if the Barbadians are confused at this turn of events, our embassy in Bridgetown with its social media arms failed in its embrace of people to people outreach.

It is worth noting that this is not the first tragedy that befall a US mission overseas in recent years. In 2007, Colonel Thomas Mooney went missing, then was found dead in Cyprus. In 2010, Vice Consul James Hogan went missing, and was never found in the Netherlands Antilles. Here now is another tragedy in Barbados.

In this incident in Barbados, the editorial expressed a quiet affront to national pride — perhaps even a slight resentment on three things: 1) we have the expertise, why did they not trust us; 2) if we are partners, they must not think very much of us, and 3) how can we defend ourselves if this is foul play when we have no idea what happened here?

And their concern is understandable.  While one can argue that the privacy of the family at this difficult time be protected, the deceased, like all public officials serving at our embassies and consulates abroad are just that, officials with public lives. Presumably, they have friends in the local community, and professional contacts in and out of the host country government who cares about what happened to them. Incidents like this will generate interests and questions even from non-embassy friends. In this case, perhaps even to seek confirmation that the host country did not have anything to do with the death of its diplomatic guest. To respond to these incidents as if there’s a news blackout is not going to make the tragic news go away, or make rumors disappear but it will sure make a mystery out of a personal tragedy.

At the height of the disappearance of James Hogan in the Netherlands Antilles, our email inquiries sent to to the US Consulate General in Curacao and to Timothy J. Dunn, the Chief of Mission/Consul General were never acknowledged or responded to.  Nothing on its website indicates that one of its three officers has gone missing or that there was a search going on. There was no official statement from the mission. About a year later, a James Hogan Missing flyer was posted on its website, with no further explanation.

In this latest incident, emails to the press office of US Embassy Bridgetown, its front office and ASKPRI@state.gov have so far all gone unanswered. A request to the Consular Section for the embassy’s latest Disposition of Remains Report for Barbados will reportedly be responded to in 72 hours. And while the press officer of the embassy was quoted as saying this is a “private matter” the embassy did not release any official statement to the local press or on its website. There’s nothing on its Facebook page, or in its mission blog, or in its Twitter account. It’s like business as usual and there’s no death in the family. Or if there is one, it’s none of your business.

By contrast, when the US Defense Attaché, Thomas Mooney disappeared from the US Embassy in Cyprus on June 28, 2007, the U.S. Embassy there issued a public appeal for information on his whereabouts. And at the sad conclusion of Col. Mooney’s disappearance, then Ambassador Ronald Schlicher released an official statement also posted on the embassy’s website.

The message bears repeating below because we feel this is how it is done by a class act:

After the notification of next of kin, with deep sadness, I announce that LTC Thomas Mooney, who served his nation with distinction as our Defense Attaché, was found dead by Cypriot authorities on Monday.

At this point in the investigation, it is now clear that LTC Thomas Mooney’s death was a personal tragedy with no political or security implications.  We wish to thank the Cypriot authorities and people once again for the extraordinary level of support and the messages of sympathy they extended to the Embassy throughout this difficult and trying time.

Please remember LTC Mooney and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Ambassador Ronald L. Schlicher

Ambassador Schlicher’s message is comforting in its simplicity. It confirmed the death of the official member of the embassy family, thanked the folks that needed thanking, and it made the embassy come across as more than just a building, but a real community. More importantly, it acknowledged the mission as part of a larger community of human beings who grieve as part of life.

We don’t know this for sure but since Col.Mooney was in the military, his remains was probably sent to Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (OAFME) at Dover Port Mortuary for an autopsy. But not once did we uncover a press account or editorial questioning the disposition of his remains.

Update @1314 PST, May 25:

Christopher J. Sandrolini, who until recently was US Embassy Bridgetown’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. and currently its Deputy Chief of Mission, responded to our email requesting comment over the editorial with the following note:

I have no official comment. Personally, I can say that George Gaines was a good friend of mine and of the entire Embassy; we miss him greatly. Many of us came up from Bridgetown for the funeral and to be with his wife and daughter.  George was an outstanding officer and widely known and respected everywhere he served.

While we understand that our embassy officials are not always able to provide an official statement, we appreciate the note from Mr. Sandrolini.
Domani Spero