Eva Veliz, a 27-year-old mother of a toddler, went dancing with her boyfriend on March 10, 1999. The next afternoon, she was found strangled and stuffed in the trunk of her boyfriend’s hatchback, parked in plain sight in Arlington, Virginia.
The Arlington County Police Department immediately went looking for the person of interest – boyfriend Ludvin Estrada. But he had already fled to Guatemala.
Fast forward 17 years to the morning of April 11, 2016. Estrada nonchalantly parked his car and started walking toward a factory in an industrial area of Villa Nueva, Guatemala. Suddenly, a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) special agent, Foreign Service national investigator, and local police officers appeared out of nowhere and took him into custody.
Many federal law enforcement agencies handle cases that require finding a subject or conducting investigative work in a foreign country. DSS’ global reach far exceeds that of any other federal agency, making it American law enforcement’s go-to agency for international investigations. More than 2,000 DSS special agents serve at 275 U.S. embassies and consulates in 170 foreign countries, as well as at 31 domestic offices across the United States.
In this case, when the Arlington County Police Department activated an international search for Estrada in 2012, the DSS Regional Security Office (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City received information from Interpol-Guatemala and the U.S. Marshals Service about Estrada, and the Guatemalan government issued a provisional arrest warrant for his extradition. When Estrada wasn’t located, the judge handling the case eventually closed it.
In early 2016, the Arlington County Police Department, acting on new information, reopened the case and reached out to the DSS Washington Field Office. A DSS agent there then reached out to his fellow agent in Guatemala, who quickly developed additional leads on the subject and initiated the layered process of having a new provisional arrest warrant.
Once the Guatemalan government issued the new warrant on April 7, 2016, it was a matter of days before a DSS agent, a Foreign Service national investigator, and Guatemalan policemen located Estrada. On April 11, 2016, they responded to an industrial area in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, where a vehicle associated with Estrada had previously been seen. When he appeared, they arrested him without incident. He was subsequently extradited to the United States and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. On March 17, 2017, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison by an Arlington County judge.
This scenario of DSS assisting in a successful fugitive return is not unusual, but the RSO’s close work with Guatemalan law enforcement was pivotal in finding and arresting Estrada.
This important part of the overseas investigation program enables the RSO to engage with host country police to provide training, innovative investigative methods, and to conduct investigations that benefit both governments.
As the special agent who led the Estrada investigation in Guatemala explained the importance of working with local law enforcement: “It’s important to know that we work outside the walls of the embassy, quarterbacking arrests and working side by side with our host nation partners, not sending them out to do the dangerous work for us. We also provide resources and training to these officers to ensure their success.”