Interesting, but... relevance?
Amid criticism that it shouldn't have been involved in the kidnapping investigation of a Mexican citizen in Mexico, a U.S. law enforcement agency responded Friday that not only is such involvement allowable, it's "standard procedure."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also dismissed accusations that the only reason it became involved in the case was because the victim is a relative of Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"For ICE, this type of international law enforcement cooperation is not unusual," ICE spokesman Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery said. "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."
Not everyone is convinced ICE acted appropriately.
On Friday, a government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said it sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking for an investigation. ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"Nowhere in any mission statement or other description of the authority of DHS, or any component of DHS, including ICE, is it suggested that DHS has the authority to get involved in the investigation of a foreign citizen, abducted on foreign soil, by foreign nationals," wrote CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. "ICE's actions here raise troubling jurisdictional and foreign policy questions."
DHS did not return phone calls seeking comment on the letter.
ICE's involvement in the case began June 19 when relatives of Erika Posselt contacted an aide to Mr. Reyes about Ms. Posselt's recent kidnapping. Ms. Posselt had been abducted by gunmen from an auto glass store she owned in Ciudad Juarez, which sits on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The Mexican border town in Chihuahua state is awash with drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder.
According to a statement released Friday by Mr. Reyes' spokesman, Ms. Posselt is a distant relative of his wife whom he has never met. The statement from Vincent Perez also said nothing suggests that Ms. Posselt was targeted because she is related to Mr. Reyes.
The aide called ICE even before telling Mr. Reyes, because it is the policy of the Texan's office to call law enforcement after learning of a possible crime. The congressman learned of the kidnapping later, Mr. Perez said.
"While the congressman was kept apprised of the situation, he had no other role," Mr. Perez said. "Any suggestion that Congressman Reyes somehow influenced the actions of law enforcement is false."
After learning about the kidnapping, ICE contacted Chihuahua Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez. The agency became involved further at the subsequent request of Mexican law enforcement, according to Mr. Alvarez-Montgomery, the ICE spokesman.
According to a confidential ICE memo, the agency's role was limited to "technical and logistical assistance." Mr. Alvarez-Montgomery said this aid included letting Mexican state and federal authorities investigating the case use ICE offices in Mexico and Texas.
Ms. Posselt was freed June 22 after the family paid a $32,000 ransom, having negotiated down the kidnappers initial demands of $500,000.
Her kidnappers have eluded authorities. Two men on a motorcycle who collected the ransom money at a Juarez street corner sped off and escaped investigators staking out the drop site.
After her release, Ms. Posselt was taken quickly to Texas and interviewed at the ICE field office in El Paso by ICE agents and Mexican prosecutors, the memo said
Despite the assertions of ICE and Mr. Reyes, some former law enforcement officers remained dubious.
"I personally don't think that's standard operating procedure to get involved in a case where it is a Mexican citizen and not a U.S. citizen in a kidnapping like that," said 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.
Interesting, but... relevance?