Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico

Posted: 3:37 am EDT
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Gregory Starr, State’s assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which borders Laredo, Texas — danger pay is not warranted. While U.S. federal employees are prohibited from leaving consulate grounds in the town that recently did away with its local police force, Starr said the workers can easily “walk across the border and be in a Walmart or a Dairy Queen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, said that convenience would do little to appease family members of Foreign Service officers stationed in the town.

“Shame on you for saying that,” Chaffetz said. “It’s so dangerous they can’t even go outside.” He added employees facing decreased pay should not blame Republicans or funding shortfalls: “You can look at the Obama administration.”

Chaffetz said the cuts were “not useful” and would damage morale, noting the problem fell with State’s management. Starr maintained the department was “not having trouble staffing” the positions in the Mexican towns, and noted employees in some areas of the country would receive a pay bump.

Danger pay is generally used for areas with “civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee,” according to federal statute.

There are about 2,800 State employees in Mexico, but the number involved in areas with crime is “minimal,” according to the department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Sue Saarino. She said in some areas employees are told to stay off the street at night, but “we think it’s manageable.”

The HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe was held on September 9.

The video is here, if you have the interest to watch it:

Back in February, we blogged about the expected changes in danger pay (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). We were under the impression that congressional interest was driving these changes.

Danger Pay

During the hearing, we learned that the State Department has indeed changed its danger and hardship pay incentives. The example cited during the hearing is Matamoros which reportedly gets a 5% bump in danger pay, with Tijuana and Nueno Laredo seeing a reduction of 5% respectively.  DS Starr said that Nuevo Laredo is more safe now than it has been and that the violence in the Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are not directed at our people. Also those assigned in Mexico can cross into the United States, whereas those assigned in Mali or Chad, for instance, do not have that option.

In fact, according to the State Department’s Allowances Office, only Ciudad Juarez has been able to keep its danger pay differential, currently at 15% as of the September 6 update.  When we last posted about this in February, Nogales was at 10%, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15% and Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey were at 20%.  With the exception of Ciudad Juaraez, all have lost their danger pay differential.  The representative from WHA says that the staff knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers, and that the allowances can change anytime.

Staffing MX posts

DS says that the incentives are generally reviewed once a year, and that State has had no problem staffing the Mexican posts.  Is that true? Of course, he did not say that part of the reason there is no problem with staffing the Mexican posts is that most jobs there are filled by entry level officers whose assignments are “directed” by State. They do not have the option to decline those assignments. How about the mid-level and senior staffing, any gaps there? How many excursion tours  are offered to Civil Servants to fill those gaps?

Security and Local Guards

DS A/S Starr in response to a query also admitted that there were six times more security incidents in Matamoros in February than the previous month.

Mr. Chaffetz railed that State is talking about training the police force but that there is no police force in Nuevo Laredo.  DS acknowledged that the local police is not functioning but that it cooperates with federal and state authorities in Mexico.

The same congressman was not happy that the local guards are only paid $316/month. DS explained that this is the prevailing wage. The congressman still wasn’t happy. We get the sense that if those local guards were paid 3x the Mexican prevailing wage, the congressman would be railing that the guards are overpaid. This has an easy fix, of course. One, Congress could allow the State Department to issue the local guard contracts base on best value instead of lowest price. That means the guards protecting our U.S. mission overseas are paid good wages not based on the lowest price the contractors can get away with.  Or, if that’s not acceptable, Congress could fund U.S. citizen private security guards to protect all our 275 missions overseas. But that won’t come cheap and we suspect Congress would  not be up for that.

Close the Consulates

Another congressman, Mr. Mica, called for closing all our consulates in Mexico.  We laughed out loud watching the video. No one else laughed.

“There has to be consequences. How many consulates do we have? I count about nine in Mexico. Is that right? I think we should close every one of those consulates immediately. Put the properties up for sale,” Mica said. “I think you have to have consequences for actions. The place is out of control.”

Mr. Cartwright picked-up Mr. Mica’s idea and asked the DHS/CBP and AFGE representatives how would closure of these consulates cut down the violence.  The witnesses were restrained in their response.

Travel Warnings

Mr. Hurd, the former undercover CIA officer who is now representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district complained that Mexico is treated like one place and it’s not. He said that 80% of violence occurs in 20% of the country and wanted to see the Travel Warning reflective of that. Mr. Hurd did talk a lot but he is probably the only one in that panel who previously served with members of the Foreign Service overseas.

I got as far as Mr. Hurd, then I finally had to give up. Did I miss a lot?

Our congressional representatives appeared to be easily distracted and jumped from one topic to the next. In most cases, they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk rather than listen to their witnesses. Which makes me wonder if they were really interested in the answers … why bother with hearings if minds are already made up?

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Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?

— Domani Spero

We last blogged about the US Consulate-related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in February 2014. The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate (see US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso).

On April 22, SpyTalker Jeff Stein has Murders in Juárez in Newsweek with disturbing allegations.

David Farrington, a U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) service agent, has been vexed by a troubling question for the past several years. He has reason to suspect a colleague deliberately failed to warn an American working at a U.S. consulate in Mexico that she was targeted for assassination by a drug cartel.

Farrington, a former Marine and 10-year veteran of the State Department’s security service, was the first agent to get to the scene of the March 13, 2010, Juarez murders—another car carrying a consulate employee was attacked as well—and caught the case, as they say in police lingo. But his revulsion quickly turned to consternation, and then obsession, when he began asking questions about the whereabouts of the consulate’s chief security officer that day. Eventually, he was taken off the case, according to State Department emails obtained by Newsweek, relieved of his badge and gun, and ordered to undergo a psychological fitness review. But he hasn’t given up.
[…]
Documents show that the Juarez case was just one of a slew of episodes in which investigators charged that senior State Department officials deep-sixed investigations to protect careers or avoid scandal. In June 2013, CBS News aired a report by John Miller, a former FBI chief spokesman, based on an internal IG memo citing instances in which “investigations were influenced, manipulated or simply called off” by senior department officials.

Ugh! More allegations of nasty bizness here.

According to NYT, that OIG report became public “as a result of a civil suit filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”

For more of that case, see Higbie v. Kerry, Dist. Court, ND Texas 2014.

On June 10, 2013, the DOJ lawyers representing Secretary Kerry filed a Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents (Doc. 79) — that OIG report. Court doc explains:

These alleged improperly-obtained documents relate to the Office of Inspector General’s (“OIG”) inspection of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) offices. Defendant contends that these documents are privileged and irrelevant. Additionally, Defendant argues that these documents are not related to the Dallas Resident Office; rather, these documents concern the “policies, resources, and management controls of the DS office that conducts criminal investigations worldwide.”

However, on March 14, 2014, the District Court of Texas granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and denied as moot Defendant’s Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents saying that “The court reviewed the alleged improperly-obtained documents and determined that nothing contained in the documents would change its ruling regarding Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The last time we checked, State/OIG still has that CBS charges on deep-sixed investigations “under review.” In November 2013, State/OIG put out an ad for one senior investigative counsel for complex/sensitive allegations.  This latest allegation may put that review on the front burner.

(Also see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal)

The Newsweek report says that “Farrington’s bosses quietly returned his badge and gun. Nothing more was said about his FFDE, but his applications for a new assignment—even in the most unpopular places—have all been turned down.”

But it also says that Cary Schulman, a Dallas lawyer who has represented Farrington (also Higbie and Fedenisn) had faxed over 100 pages of internal emails and other materials related to Farrington’s case to the House oversight and Senate foreign relations committees.

Let’s see what happens.

On April 24, DOJ announced that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, aka “Benny,” “Farmero,” “51,” “Guero,” “Pecas,” “Tury,” and “86,” 35, of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Barrio Azteca Lieutenant who ordered the March 2010 murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, was sentenced  to serve life in prison.

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US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso

— Domani Spero

We’ve blogged previously about the US Consulate -related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in 2010.  The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.

El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez has covered this case from the beginning. According to EPT, the jury was selected on January 31, 2014:

Jury selection gets underway today in the trial of an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez in 2010.

Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, who pleaded not guilty, claims in court filings that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured and his wife raped by Mexican police before he was extradited to the United States in 2012.
[…]
U.S. officials have not offered a clear motive for the three slayings in 2010, except to suggest that the killers might have confused the victims for rivals. Evidence from the trial may shed light on why the trio was attacked.

The three victims had left a children’s party in Juárez attended by consulate employees and their families, and were in two separate vehicles, Redelfs and his wife in one, and Salcido in the second vehicle. Both vehicles were white in color.

Shooters, who were also in separate vehicles, followed the two white cars and shot them up in Juárez near the Stanton Street bridge.

Read more here.

Catch up on the trial below — see links to the El Paso Times coverage:

Juarez consulate killings: Opening statements begin
02/03/2014 – The government presented opening statements this morning in the trial of Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010.

US Consulate trial: Barrio Azteca gang member recounts killings during Juarez cartel war
02/04/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member gave bone-chilling testimony Monday about his role in the violence that ignited Juarez during the drug cartel wars and left among its victims a U.S.

Juarez consulate trial: FBI agent says the accused never told him he was tortured in Mexico
02/05/2014 – The defendant in a federal trial accused of conspiring to kill three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010 did not tell FBI agents that Mexican police tortured him…

Juarez consulate killings: Witness says Barrio Aztecas were trained by Zetas cartel
02/05/2014 – A Barrio Azteca gang member turned government witness testified Tuesday that his gang had received training on how to become better killers from the notorious Zetas drug cartel.

Juarez consulate trial: Relative of kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testifies
02/07/2014 – A relative of Mexican drug kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testified Thursday as a government witness in the federal trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged Barrio Azteca leader accused of conspiring to kill three people with links to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez.

El Paso Barrio Azteca gang helped arm counterparts in Juarez
02/08/2014 – Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso provided firearms and ammunition to counterparts in Juarez and used women as drug mules to smuggle heroin into the United States, said former gang members

US Consulate trial: DEA source set up secure network for Juarez cartel
02/11/2014 – A telecommunications specialist from Mexico testified Monday that he helped set up a secure radio network for the Barrio Azteca and La Linea members in 2010 that was used to relay orders to kill …

US Consulate killings trial: Witness says defendant ordered the slayings
02/12/2014 – A Barrio Azteca member who admitted taking part in the March 2010 slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez testified Tuesday that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon gave the order…

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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
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