Ex-US Attorney Johnny Sutton is Back in the "Justice" Game
Recently retired prosecutor will work once again for former boss: John Ashcroft
What happens to your career in America when you oversee a federal investigation in which an informant, paid by the government and with the knowledge of federal agents and prosecutors, is allowed to assist in the torture and murder of a dozen people?
You later land a high-paying job defending well-heeled corporate clients against the government, right?
And when the facts of the U.S. government’s complicity in those heinous crimes are pointed out to you in a letter from a DEA commander, what course of action best advances your career?
It certainly has to be orchestrating the retaliation against the whistleblower to silence him and, with the assistance of your bosses, covering up the government’s role in the murders, right?
Well, if you think that scenario is backwards, think again. This is America!
A dozen people were tortured and murdered between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 in a house in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The case has since been dubbed the House of Death.
The murders were carried out as part of a criminal enterprise overseen by Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, who U.S. prosecutors claim was a top lieutenant in Vicente Carrillo Fuentes’ (VCF’s) Juárez drug organization.
Federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in El Paso had planted an informant inside of Santillan’s criminal syndicate. The federal agents, along with a U.S. prosecutor in El Paso, were using the informant to snare Santillan.
But something went terribly wrong with the investigation. The informant, with the knowledge of the ICE agents and a U.S. prosecutor, actually participated in the murders in Juarez, a fact the law enforcers went to great lengths to keep under wraps.
A high-ranking DEA agent, Sandalio Gonzalez, who served as the head of that agency’s field office in El Paso when the murders took place, blew the whistle on the alleged criminal cover-up in the ICE operation. Gonzalez exposed the fact that the ICE agents and a U.S. prosecutor knew their informant was a party to the homicides, yet allowed the murder spree to continue to assure the informant was not exposed — so they could continue to use him to make their case against Santillan.
Gonzalez first spoke out against the corruption in the House of Death investigation in early 2004, within weeks of a DEA agent and his family being confronted by Santillan’s death squad, who had mistaken the agent for a competing smuggler. The agent and his family barely escaped a trip to the House of Death.
In the wake of that confrontation, and after discovering that the ICE informant was a participant in the House of Death murders, Gonzalez sent an internal letter on Feb. 24, 2004, to the top ICE official in El Paso and to Johnny Sutton, the U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, Texas.
In that letter, Gonzalez exposed the whole sordid tale, spelling out in detail how the ICE agent’s complicity in the informant’s murderous activity had nearly cost the lives of a DEA agent and his family.
But rather than meet with Gonzalez in an effort to investigate these serious charges, officials within the Department of Justice (DOJ) went after Gonzalez, seeing to it that he was reprimanded and his career tarnished with a negative job-performance review. Gonzalez also was ordered to remain silent on the whole matter.
According to Gonzalez, the retaliation for writing the whistleblower letter was orchestrated by Sutton, who wanted to bury the letter because it was deemed “discovery material” (evidence) that threatened to compromise a career-boosting death-sentence case against a major narco-trafficker. That means, Gonzalez says, that Sutton is implicated in the cover-up of a U.S. government informant’s participation in mass murder.
Sutton has declined numerous requests from Narco News to be interviewed about the House of Death case.
On the Record
Narco News obtained hundreds of pages of documents related to the House of Death case through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, where Gonzalez filed a whistleblower retaliation case. Those FOIA records shine even more light on the cover-up, showing that a number of high-ranking officials — including then DEA Administrator Karen Tandy — were aware of the informant’s complicity in the murders in Juárez.
Other documents that surfaced in federal court in Miami, as part of an employment discrimination case Gonzalez filed and won against the Department of Justice, include a deposition taken of Tandy herself. In the deposition, Tandy admits that sometime prior to early March 2004 the U.S. Attorney General (then John Ashcroft) and the Deputy Attorney General (then James B. Comey) were “personally briefed” about the “issues with ICE” — that is, the complicity of ICE agents in the House of Death murders.
However, to date, no one has been prosecuted for those brutal slayings; not the informant who participated in them, not the ICE agents or U.S. prosecutor who were aware of the informant’s participation, yet continued to use him to make a drug case; not even Santillan, the narco-trafficker accused of ordering the House of Death murders.
In fact, in the case of Santillan, there was no trial, assuring that the whole bloody affair would not be exposed to the glare of courtroom scrutiny. Rather, U.S. Attorney Sutton cut a plea deal with Santillan in which all murder charges against him were dropped.
And now, it seems Sutton, who recently resigned his U.S. Attorney post, and Ashcroft [who served as Attorney General from February 2001 to February 2005] have been reunited to inflict more of their brand of justice on the American people.
The Austin American Statesman reports that Sutton is back in business with his former boss, Ashcroft, and three other former U.S. Attorneys, who have been enlisted to expand the law firm attached to Ashcroft’s consulting company, the Ashcroft Group — which feeds off of U.S. government contracts.
From the Statesman:
At a Friday interview in the firm's new Austin office — which will be led by Sutton — Ashcroft said the lawyers would represent clients that "interface between corporate America and government."
… The Ashcroft Group has consulted for corporations in a variety of areas, including homeland security, data security and corporate finance. Its past clients include Oracle Corp., the software-database company. After hiring the Ashcroft Group, Oracle won Justice Department antitrust approval for an acquisition.
Ashcroft said the consulting group just completed a contract to monitor an out-of-court settlement between government prosecutors and medical equipment company Zimmer Holdings Inc.
The company had been accused of providing kickbacks to doctors in exchange for using its products.
Ashcroft was criticized for the deal because he was given the business — which according to a 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission filing was worth between $28 million and $52 million — by then-New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, who had worked for Ashcroft at the Justice Department.
Another publication, the Litigation Daily blog, had this to say about the Ashcroft Law Firm.
The Litigation Daily caught up with Ashcroft on Thursday…. He told us that the firm will represent mainly individuals and organizations facing government investigations and regulatory enforcement actions.
And it seems another Ashcroft underling, former DOJ Director of Public Affairs Mark Corallo, who was included in the DOJ e-mail chain that was part of the damage control of the House of Death murders, is also in the mix, according to the Wall Street Journal:
The new [Ashcroft law] offices are in Boston, St. Louis, Austin [Sutton’s new home base] and Dallas, said spokesman Mark Corallo. The lawyers will do corporate compliance work, as well as represent white collar clients.
With all the talk torture memos and subsequent cover-ups, and given its principle players’ background with the House of Death, you have to think there would be no better law firm in the nation than that of Ashcroft’s to take on the defense of people like former Vice President Dick Cheney — should a prosecution over the Bush Administration’s sanctioning of torture ever materialize.
And Cheney does qualify as “white collar” and as an individual at a "at a very, very significant level" — which is how the Dallas Morning News describes The Ashcroft Law Firm’s client base.
You have to wonder, though, if former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be a future client or an employee of Ashcroft’s league of upstanding barristers in this case. It’s so hard to tell, given the tortured relationship between justice and this cast of characters.
But I jest. These boys won't be dabbling in criminal law — as that might be deemed by some to be a conflict of interest.