As police pieced together the details of the contract killing of a Mexican drug cartel lieutenant-turned-U.S. informant, a surprising connection emerged: their chief suspect was an informant himself.
Investigators said this week that the May 15 hit on Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement informant and one-time smuggling manager for the Juarez drug cartel, was planned and carried out by a fellow cartel member who also was working with ICE.
Whether the man accused in the killing ever knew that he and Gonzalez were both ICE informants is unclear.
If everyone does their job right, no one outside of a very small group of investigators should know the identity of an informant, said Fred Burton, a vice president for counter terrorism and corporate security with Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence company.
"Identities are highly secret; no one knows, even potentially (people) inside the agency," Burton said.
Mix-ups to be expected
Still, other retired law enforcement officials and experts say allegations that a U.S. informant killed someone isn't completely surprising.
"These informants are not altar boys," said Robert Almonte, a retired El Paso police deputy chief and executive director of the Texas Narcotics Officers' Association. "They are aware of criminal activity because they are involved in criminal activity, or have been. That's what makes them good informants."
Ruben Rodriguez Dorado, a 30-year-old cartel member, was arrested Monday, along with two other men, on a charge of capital murder. Police allege he paid 18-year-old U.S. Army Pfc. Michael Jackson Apodaca to be the triggerman, 17-year-old Christopher Duran to drive the getaway car and a 16-year-old boy to provide surveillance the night Gonzalez was shot eight times. All three teens were paid less than $10,000, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said this week.
The teens are also charged with capital murder. The three older suspects were being held in the El Paso County jail on $1 million bail Thursday. Details about the 16-year-old, who has not been named by police because of his age, were not available.
Online jail and court records do not show if Apodaca or Duran have lawyers. Russell M. Aboud, Rodriguez's lawyer, did not return multiple messages seeking comment.
Lack of supervision leads to confusion
Almonte, who has worked with informants in the past, said it's often difficult to know exactly what each informant may be up to when they aren't actively working on a case.
"It's not like they are one of the agents in the office, working side by side (with investigators)," Almonte said.
Neville Cramer, a retired special agent with the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, agreed that it can be a challenge to keep up with every move an informant makes.
But given what police said was Rodriguez's cartel job — tracking down people set for execution for his Juarez cartel bosses — Neville said ICE officials would have been smart to keep close tabs on him.
"If they were allowing this guy to give the U.S. information they probably should have known he was conspiring to kill someone," Cramer said.
ICE officials have declined to comment on the case, citing agency policy not to "confirm or deny identification of confidential sources of information."
‘You can't control them’
Police said Gonzalez was targeted by the cartel after he fled Mexico in 2008 in the wake of the arrest of a cartel boss and a raid on a cartel warehouse by Mexican authorities. In charging documents filed against the three men arrested Monday, investigators said Gonzalez was thought to be a snitch or a turncoat.
Cartel lieutenant Jesus Aguayo Salas is accused of ordering and paying for the hit from Mexico. A warrant charging him with capital murder has been issued.
Gonzalez and ICE officials knew he was being hunted by his one-time colleagues, police Lt. Alfred Lowe said this week. But still, Lowe said, ICE gave Gonzalez a visa to live legally in the United States and never informed local officials about the threat against the man who shared a spacious house with his wife and two children in the same east El Paso neighborhood where both Allen and El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza live.
Police say Rodriguez tracked Gonzalez's license plate number and his cell phone number trying to get his home address. Investigators said Rodriguez and his co-defendants trailed Gonzalez from one side of El Paso to the other before Apodaca allegedly shot him with a .45 caliber handgun.
Burton suspects someone — either Gonzalez or his ICE handlers — got sloppy. ICE officials also may not have done enough homework on who they were using as informants, he said.
"Anyone who calls to give information, you don't necessarily make them your asset because you can't control them," Burton said. "If you have an asset out there committing crimes ... it appears to me that that this informant is out of control and you shouldn't be touching them with a 10-foot pole."