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Journalist At Center Of Bogus Laredo Ranch Story Accused of Plagiarism

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If you spend enough time getting to know bloggers, you'll find that plenty of them have a story or two to tell about their uneasy relationship with traditional media outlets. Most of the time, the story will be about how some obscure writer took on an under-reported story as a passion project, only to watch as weeks later, outfits with bigger megaphones pick up on the news and reap acclaim without acknowledging the folks that did the heavy lifting. Occasionally, however, you find stories like the one Bill Conroy is telling, which go a step beyond.

Conroy writes for The Narco News Bulletin, a website dedicated to covering the news of the Drug War. As Conroy describes, for six years now, the site has been covering what's come to be called the "House of Death" story. (Following on the heels of Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News, who originally broke the story.)

Here's the essentials. Ten years ago, a drug runner named Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro -- also known as "Lalo" -- became a paid informant for the Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Lalo helped ICE target a drug cartel operating in the vicinity of Mexico's dangerous and anarchic border town, Ciudad Juarez. But even as Lalo played informant on the ICE payroll, his own involvement with the cartel deepened. And troublingly so: Lalo assisted the Juarez cartel in carrying out multiple murders (at the so-called "House of Death'). What did U.S. law enforcement agencies know about Lalo's participation in these crimes, when did they know it, and what have they done to cover up their knowledge? Conroy has doggedly pursued the answers to those questions.

And, years after Conroy blazed the path, other news organizations have gotten around to picking up the story. Here, for example, is an NPR report on the matter from February of this year, stepping on what Narco News had long set up on -- it was Narco News that actually coined the term "House of Death." Of NPR's appropriation, Conroy notes their failure to "acknowledge Narco News for its efforts in advancing the story, even as these media outlets borrow heavily from government documents uncovered by Narco News." But it's another reporter, Kimberly Dvorak, that had Conroy spitting fire back in March of this year. And for good reason: she's just straight up ripped Narco News off.

Of course, what makes all of this backstory interesting and current is the fact that Dvorak has been at the center at another recent bit of fabrication. In fact, if you have a passing familiarity with Dvorak at all, it probably from that time she took some hot Minuteman rumor-farts and made up an entire story about the Los Zetas gang seizing two ranches in Laredo, Texas, "in what could be deemed an act of war." But as it turns out her story could be deemed an act of total bullshit. And with the help of local law enforcement, Talking Points Memo published the
essential debunking
of that nonsense.

And Obama's nominee to head the DEA, Michele Leonhart, is all up in the Casa-de-Muerte mix, which means that if her stalled nomination gets into first gear, it'll drag that sucker with it through her confirmation hearings.

Of Dvorak, Conroy writes:

She has been "writing for ... the Washington Times and a number of smaller publications" as well as making regular appearances on a conservative talk radio shows, according to her bio on the conservative blog Red County.

Since last November, Dvorak has written about a half dozen or so stories on the House of Death, with headlines such as "House of death: U.S. Government cover-up unveiled," and most recently, "House of Death ICE Informant escapes deportation charges to Mexico." Those stories appeared in a conservative online publication called the Examiner.com.

In none of these House of Death stories does Dvorak mention Narco News' coverage, yet she seems to be quite well versed, literally, on that coverage.

How well versed? Well versed enough to appropriate as her own work. Conroy goes on to cite numerous examples, which include the following:

From a Narco News story published March 24, 2010 [emphasis added in all excerpts to follow]:

After some five years of battling in the immigration courts, ... the BIA has finally ruled in Ramirez Peyro's favor.

From a Dvorak story published March 25, 2010, by the Examiner.com:

After more than five years of battles in the immigration courtroom...The Appeal's board ruled in Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro or 'Lalo's' favor...

• From a Nov. 2, 2009, story in the Examiner.com:

This murderous rampage went on for more than six months and nearly cost the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lives as well as immediate family members.

• From a Dec. 8, 2005, story published by Narco News:

Between August 2003 and mid-January of 2004, a dozen people were kidnapped, tortured and butchered at the House of Death in Juarez...When the informant's role came to light, after his activities nearly cost the lives of a DEA agent and his family...

• Again, from the Nov. 2, 2009, Examiner.com story:

...Unfortunately for ICE the car is pulled over by a marked Juarez police car, which leads to Santillan calling Lalo to check on the identity of the occupants in the car...

• From an April 14, 2008, Narco News story:

The DEA agent's car was pulled over a short time later in Juarez by a marked municipal police car...Santillan wanted the informant to check out the driver, to determine his real identity, ...

• From a Feb. 2, 2010, story published by the Examiner.com:

...To this day the JAT report has been buried in Washington D.C. and the back and forth inside the judicial system and obvious judge shopping is further proof the U.S. government doesn't want Lalo to testify.

• From an Aug. 25, 2007, story published by Narco News:

To this day, a joint DEA/ICE investigation into the House of Death, called the JAT report, has been suppressed by both agencies...[ICE and DEA, both, interestingly, based in Washington, D.C.]

Typically, when you find yourself refereeing this sort of dispute, you have to take a look at the examples provided and render a judgment as to how close to the border of the strike zone the alleged offenses are. But Conroy saves the best for last -- an example that hangs fat over the middle of the plate.

From the [February 17, 2010] Examiner.com story authored by Dvorak:

...Bill Weaver, a law professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has written extensively about the murder case, stated that a letter from DEA in December 2006 stated, "that his FOIA request for the JAT is being jammed up because some documents are in South America and due to national security concerns."

From the Narco News story, published Jan. 6, 2007:

The NSWBC's Weaver, who is a university professor with a law degree, also smelled a foul deed afoot after receiving the DEA's Dec. 6, 2006, letter informing him that his FOIA request for the JAT is being jammed up because some documents are in South America and due to national security concerns.

Oh, snap. See what Dvorak did there? She didn't merely rip off Narco News verbatim, she took their reporting and used it to fabricate a quote.

Weaver told the Huffington Post, "Her work seems to be a rather bad example of intellectual laziness and a desire to get ahead without paying the freight. In the event, after reading what she and Bill have written, let me say that her quote does not reflect what I said - she seems to have just lifted it from Bill and attributed it to me. I vaguely recall that I found her to be rather unprofessional and somewhat dense. She also cites me as a 'law professor.' That would be tough to be since UTEP doesn't have a law school."

Reached by the Huffington Post, Dvorak strenuously denies either stealing or leaning heavily on Conroy's content, stressing that she's "worked with all the players involved...spent hundreds of hours with "Lalo," and was able to work with Congressional members who finally procured Lalo's release from a 6 year prison sentence." She adds (emphasis hers): "I got all my information from [Lalo] and he would be happy to tell you himself I got the information from him. He will also tell you Conroy was not entirely accurate in his stories."

So there you have it: Lalo -- the guy who is implicated as an accessory to 12 murders while serving as an ICE informant -- would tell you that Conroy's reporting is "not entirely accurate."

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