Former DOJ media-spin chief claims he can't recall House of Death murders

The coverage of the House of Death mass murder case in Ciudad Juárez by Narco News over the past two or so years has been marked by official indifference on many fronts.

In the face of all of these roadblocks on the reporting front, the reporting on the case has persevered, even if it has meant, at times, reporting on the nature of the obstructions themselves.

Many of those obstacles have been intricate barriers seemingly constructed with reams of government red tape for the sole purpose of entangling anyone who might travel the road toward the truth of the House of Death.

The latest roadblock in this journey, however, has nothing to do with red tape. This one appears to be all about the theory of evolution within a government bureaucracy. That theory, like Darwinism, also is based on monkeys – the kind that see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. As part of the continuing coverage of the House of Death mass murder case, I recently reached out to Mark Corallo, who worked as the director of public affairs for the Department of Justice under Attorney General John Ashcroft. Corallo was in that hot seat, charged with overseeing the PR spin for controversial DOJ issues, as the House of Death murders, and the U.S. government’s complicity in those murders, was just coming to light in early 2004.

In fact, Corallo’s name turns up in an e-mail loop that uncloaks DEA Administrator Karen Tandy's efforts to silence a whistleblower who was seeking to expose the U.S. government’s complicity in the House of Death case. That e-mail correspondence also addresses efforts to control media coverage of the mass-murder tragedy, which nearly led to the death of a DEA agent and his family.

You would think that in his capacity as head of the DOJ’s public affairs office, Corallo would have been intimately involved in assuring that the DOJ put the proper spin on the story for the media. In fact, Corallo now bills himself as an expert in helping organizations deal with “bad news” as the head of his own PR firm in Virginia called Corallo Media Strategies.

But it appears the three-monkey strategy has a fourth theoretical leg in this case: Remember no evil.

Below is an email exchange between Corallo and myself that occurred earlier this week. My initial query is quite long; his response very concise. I believe that this bit of reporting correspondence is worth sharing with you. Think of it as a peek under the hood of the media spin machine.

Anyway, I leave it to you, as readers (not monkeys) to decide for yourself whether evolution can hinder memory.

Reaching out

Following is the e-mail I sent to Corallo earlier this week (June 28) concerning the House of Death case as well as his response to my query.

Mr. Corallo,

My name is Bill Conroy, a journalist and correspondent for an online publication called Narco News.

For the past two years, I've been following a story that has been dubbed the House of Death case. The details of this case crossed your desk - or email box - in March 2004 while you were with DOJ public affairs.

The case involves the torture and murder of a dozen people between August 2003 and January 2004 in the Mexican border town of Juarez. The individuals were killed by narco-traffickers with the participation of a U.S. government informant employed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the wake of the murders coming to light, a DEA special agent in charge wrote an internal memo to the ICE agent in charge in El Paso and to the U.S. Attorney in San Antonio. In the memo, the DEA SAC raised some serious questions about the complicity of ICE agents in allowing their informant to participate in the murders and expressed outrage at the fact that this ugly scenario nearly led to the death of a DEA agent and his family - who were, in fact, targeted by the narco-traffickers involved with the murders.

Once this memo was sent, according to the DEA supervisor, Sandalio Gonzalez, the U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, Johnny Sutton, instead of investigating the charges, allegedly sought to retaliated against the whistleblower - Gonzalez. A series of emails have since surfaced through FOIA requests indicating that Sutton used his pull within DOJ to silence Gonzalez and to, in essence, propel a cover-up of the informant's and ICE agents' complicity in the murders, allegedly to prevent the derailing of the high-profile criminal case targeting the narco-traffickers involved in the murders.

The FOIA records show that you were copied on at least one of the emails, an email sent by Karen Tandy, head of the DEA. I've attached the text of the email below.

I realize that while working for DOJ, you had a duty to work within the framework of DOJ policies on these matters and do not suggest in any way that you have assisted in any type of cover-up. However, now that you are no longer with DOJ, I am curious as to what you might be able to share with me concerning this case and what did or did not happen with respect to DOJ's actions in D.C. at the time.

Specifically, I'm wondering to what extent Mr. Sutton did, or did not, influence the actions taken against Mr. Gonzalez and the continuing lack of investigatory zeal concerning his charges. In fact, the informant at the center of this mess is slated to be deported to Mexico, where he almost certainly will be killed by the very narco-traffickers he double-crossed. Should that occur, buried with him, will be a good part of the truth behind why a dozen people were tortured and murdered in Juarez as part of this botched drug-war case. Though many of the victims were undoubtedly linked to the narco trade, at least one, a young man from a small town outside El Paso, appears to have been an innocent victim who got wrapped up in this tragedy by happenstance. If justice means anything in this country, then that young man's family, including his children, deserve at least to know the whole truth of what happened to him.

It is in that spirit that I make this appeal. If you can be of any assistance, it would be appreciated greatly. …


Bill Conroy
Narco News

Email background:

On March 5, 2004, DEA Administrator Tandy sent off an e-mail (below) to O'Neil, Comey, Ayers and Taylor. [At the time, Catherine M. O’Neil was Associate Attorney General and head of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force; David Ayers was chief of staff to the Attorney General; James B. Comey was the Deputy Attorney General.]

Others within DOJ who received a copy of Tandy's e-mail included: Michele Leonhart, Deputy Administrator of DEA; Stuart Levey, former Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General who is now Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial and Intelligence; Chuck Rosenberg, former Chief of Staff for the Deputy Attorney General, who is now U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas in Houston; and Mark Corallo, Director of Public Affairs for the Justice Department.

The email:

Subject: Re: Possible press involving the DEA Juárez /ICE informant issue

DEA HQ officials were not aware of our el paso SAC's inexcusable letter until last evening - although a copy of the letter first landed in the foreign operations section sometime the day before. The SAC did not tell anyone at HQ that he was contemplating such a letter, and did not discuss it or share it with HQ until we received the copy as noted above, well after it was sent.

I apologized to Johnny Sutton last night and he and I agreed on a no comment to the press.

Mike Furgason, Chief of Operations, notified the El Paso SAC last night that he is not to speak to the press other than a no comment, that he is to desist writing anything regarding the Juárez matter and related case and defer to the joint management and threat assessment teams out of HQ - and he is to relay these directions to the rest of his El Paso Division.

The SAC, who reports to Michele, will be brought in next week for performance discussions to further address this officially.

The following passage is from a 2004 complaint filed with the OSC [U.S. Office of Special Counsel] by DEA supervisor Gonzalez:

… This issue began on February 24, 2004, when I sent a letter to the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in (El Paso, Texas) in essence holding him responsible for the actions of ICE personnel and one of their informants regarding the discovery of several bodies buried in the backyard of a residence located in the city of (Ciudad Juárez) Republic of Mexico, and the obstruction of an investigation about a threat against the life of a DEA agent and his family. Since a federal prosecutor was in the mix, I also sent the letter to the prosecutor's supervisor in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, (San Antonio)....

A few days later I received a telephone call from (name blacked out), the Chief of Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who informed me that the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas (Johnny Sutton) had been given a copy of the aforementioned letter and that (Sutton) was very upset with it, and had alleged that my letter had created discovery material in the federal case against (Heriberto Santillan-Tabares). (The Chief of Operations at DEA) also said that (Sutton) had gone directly to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to complain about me, and that DOJ officials had contacted (the) DEA Administrator to inform her about (Sutton's) complaint....

A link to one of the packages of stories in my coverage of this case:

Reaching back

The day after sending the above e-mail query, (after also giving him a telephone call) I got the following e-mail from Corallo:

Hey Bill – got your voicemail yesterday.  I’m out of the office for the July 4 weekend.

To be honest, I have absolutely no recollection of the case.  In fact, I have no recollection of the email and after reading it had no “bells” rung.  Sorry to be so unhelpful.


One former federal agent familiar with the House of Death case, when informed of Corallo’s e-mail response, had this to say:

“There is no way Mark Corallo's memory is that faulty.”

Gonzalez, who served as the head of DEA’s operations in El Paso, Texas, when the House of Death murders occurred, had this to say about Corallo’s memory loss:

I find it hard to believe. In his (Corallo’s) role as head of public affairs for the Department of Justice, he certainly had to know what was going on in Juárez (the House of Death murders) because it was reported to the Attorney General and he received e-mail on this matter. And there was an internal (DOJ) decision not to make comments to the press on the case, so he had to have been made aware of that as head of public affairs. For him to say that now he cannot remember it is not credible.

Well, I guess this particular roadblock in the path of authentic journalism is evidence that, when it comes to truth in government, the goal of some of our “leaders” is to make monkeys out of all of us.

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