A Guatemalan man accused of participating in a massacre in his homeland almost 30 years ago lived quietly in a leafy neighborhood in Palm Beach County.
The one-story stucco home where Gilberto Jordán lives west of this south Palm Beach County community does not stand out in the leafy neighborhood near Interstate 95.
Jordán, born in Guatemala, easily blends into the neighborhood of immigrants who hail from such countries as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras.
But Jordán, 54, is no ordinary immigrant.
He is a former soldier in a Guatemalan army unit known as kaibiles, a group of highly trained and highly feared fighters who in the 1980s formed special commando teams to track down and kill Cuban-backed leftist guerrillas operating in the Central American country.
But the kaibiles also were implicated in massacres of innocent villagers. On Wednesday, federal agents swooped down onto Jordán's driveway in the 5000 block of Palm Ridge Boulevard near Military Trail and arrested him on charges related to a December 1982 massacre that left 251 men, women and children dead. The massacre at Dos Erres (Two R's) was one of the worst in Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
When questioned by authorities, Jordán ``readily admitted'' participating in the massacre, throwing a live baby into a well and taking other people to the well where they were later executed by other soldiers, according to an arrest affidavit filed in West Palm Beach federal court.
When an El Nuevo Herald reporter and photographer approached Jordán's house Thursday, a young man identified himself as Jordán's son but refused to give his name. He said his father was not home.
`A DECENT MAN'
``I know why you are here and we're not giving interviews,'' he said. ``All I can tell you is that my father is a decent man, a hard-working man and we know that talking to the press would do more harm than good.''
He did confirm that his father worked as a chef specializing in Italian food. ``He even learned Italian while doing his work,'' the son said.
He refused to say where his father worked, but people familiar with the case said Jordán had prepared dishes at some of Palm Beach's country clubs.
A magistrate judge granted Jordán $100,000 bail and confined him to house arrest and electronic monitoring. Arraignment was set for May 26.
Jordán, a naturalized U.S. citizen, faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of lying on his U.S. citizenship application. He would then be stripped of his citizenship, placed in deportation proceedings and possibly returned to his homeland, where it's unclear if he would be tried for the mass killings.
Jordán is among several suspected foreign human rights violators to be arrested in south Palm Beach County, home to tens of thousands of Central American immigrants.
How Jordán drew the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unclear.
But in the past, many of the foreign torture suspects detained and deported by immigration authorities have been denounced by former victims or former fellow soldiers who recognize them on the street. Human rights activists who track down accused foreign human rights violators also presumably have tipped off authorities.
In Jordán's case, a former kaibil who was at the Dos Erres massacre collaborated with federal investigators and confirmed that Jordán was involved in the killings, according to an affidavit filed by Jon A. Longo, a senior ICE special agent in West Palm Beach.
Precisely how Jordán came to live in South Florida is not known. But the affidavit, plus interviews with people familiar with the case and Jordán's neighbors, yielded the story of a tough soldier in Guatemala and a hard-working immigrant in America.
Jordán was 26 when he served in the kaibiles, then the primary Guatemalan counterguerrilla organization, and was deployed to Dos Erres, a village in the tropical forest region of Petén. Dos Erres was named after the initials of the last names of its founders, Federico Ruano and Marcos Reyes.
After a guerrilla ambush of an army patrol near Dos Erres in which 21 soldiers were killed and their weapons taken, Jordán and his unit -- the Alpha assault group -- were dispatched to the village. Almost 20 kaibiles, including Jordán, then entered Dos Erres before dawn one day in early December 1982.
``Members of the Alpha assault group were positioning villagers on their knees in front of the well and interrogating them as to the location of the rifles stolen from the Guatemalan military by guerrillas,'' Longo's affidavit said.
It added that a witness interviewed by ICE claimed he saw Jordán ``carrying a live baby to the village well, and subsequently drop the child into the well.''
Just before being arrested, Longo's affidavit said, ``Jordán readily admitted that he threw a baby into the well and participated in killing people at Dos Erres, as well as bringing them to the well where they were killed.''
People familiar with the case said he left Guatemala during the late 1980s and made his way to California -- apparently as an undocumented immigrant.
In California, Jordán worked as a farm worker, according to sources. Public records indicate Jordán obtained a Social Security number in California in 1988. He obtained a green card under auspices of the 1986 Reagan administration amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
A few years later, Jordán moved to South Florida. Public records show that by the mid-1990s he was living at a different address in Delray Beach and Boca Raton. He bought his home in Delray Beach in 2002 for $149,900.
In September 1996, Jordán applied for U.S. citizenship and submitted his application at the Palm Beach Gardens office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Three years later, Jordán was summoned to be examined for citizenship and an INS examiner asked him under oath if his application was truthful.
Jordán answered yes, Longo's affidavit said. It added that subsequent evidence showed Jordán lied about not serving in the military and not commiting a crime. Jordán was approved for citizenship and swore allegiance to the United States at a mass naturalization ceremony at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Aug. 25, 1999.
A few months later, the wheels of justice began to turn in Guatemala -- where the civil war had ended and investigators were probing past atrocities.
On April 4, 2000, a judge in Petén ordered the arrest of kaibil unit members involved in the Dos Erres massacre. Jordán's name was on the list.
ICE cited the judge's arrest warrant in Longo's affidavit.
Two others on the judge's list were Jorge Vinicio Sosa-Orantes and Pedro Pimentel-Rios, who settled in California. Pimentel Rios of Santa Ana was arrested early last week for allegedly violating immigration law, Nicole Navas, the ICE spokeswoman in Miami, said Friday.
Pimentel-Rios has been in the country since 1990 while Sosa-Orantes arrived apparently five years ago. It's unclear if Sosa-Orantes or Pimentel-Rios was in contact with Jordán in the United States.
Jordán's neighbors were surprised to learn of his alleged background. Most knew he came from Guatemala, but never got close to him or talked to him in detail about his past.
``I guess you don't really know who your neighbors are,'' said Miriam Cloutier, who lives about three houses away.