SAN DIEGO – The family of a woman killed by Mexican drug dealers while acting as a plant for the FBI won’t find vindication for her death in court, a federal judge ruled in dismissing the case.
Andreina Tortolero was strangled to death in January 2015 near Tijuana, Mexico, by cartel members, including the son of infamous drug dealer Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, according to her family’s complaint filed in federal court this past September.
She’d agreed to act as a conduit for the FBI in exchange for getting her husband Eztor Placencia out of jail, where he faced charges for a parole violation. But Tortolero’s family claimed her husband was not facing years in prison as agents led her to believe, and she agreed to deliver 10 kilograms of methamphetamine to cartel members in Mexico in a sting operation.
But when agents didn’t deliver the drugs, drug dealers strangled the former model from Venezuela for failing to come through.
In a 9-page order issued July 13, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez found the case should be tossed – letting the FBI off the hook of the family’s wrongful death suit.
The family’s attorney Elliot Kanter told Courthouse News in a phone interview the law which prevents government agents from being held accountable for injuries sustained in other countries is “Draconian.”
“Unfortunately, there is a law that says if someone is injured in a foreign country, even as a result as a government employee, there is immunity and they can’t be held accountable,” Kanter said.
“It’s a shame. It’s a terrible law. They knew they put someone in danger and it doesn’t matter.”
Benitez acknowledged in his order the complaint “describes a tragic and disturbing chain of events resulting in the death of Tortolero at the hands of drug dealers.” But because Tortolero died in Mexico, Benitez found the FBI correctly argued the claims were barred under the foreign-country exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act.
“It is clear that the FTCA’s foreign-country exception would preclude a claimant who was actually injured (or even a claimant’s estate where the claimant was killed) in a foreign country from bringing a lawsuit against the government, and it appears Congress intended to similarly bar emotional distress and related survivor claims by persons who sustained their injuries in the United States,” Benitez wrote.
The judge found “justice does not require granting plaintiffs leave to amend” and denied the family’s motion to amend their complaint to add additional claims.
Kanter said Placencia is raising the couple’s son on his own and called the family’s loss “a very, very sad situation.”
Deputy U.S. Attorney Dianne Schweiner, who represented the government in the action, did not return an email request for comment.
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