Leaked letter links U.S. Attorney Sutton to cover-up in House of Death

The Pentagon Papers, as you recall, were part of a classified government report leaked to the media in 1971 by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The documents exposed the U.S. government’s efforts to deceive the public in its disastrous pursuit of the Vietnam War.

A similar report exists in the case of the House of Death mass murder in Juarez, Mexico — a bloody tragedy of the disastrous drug war. A document known as the Joint Assessment Team report, or JAT, was put together in the wake of a DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation into the government’s role in the brutal murders — which nearly cost the lives of a DEA agent and his family.

The JAT continues to be a closely guarded document within the Bush Administration’s cover-up machine.

However, Narco News has recently obtained a new document that proves the JAT was provided to the office of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio, Texas. That new document is a letter written by a high-level DEA official to the chief of the criminal unit in Sutton’s office. At the time Sutton’s office received the letter from DEA in April 2004, it was in the process of prosecuting the narco-trafficker who oversaw the House of Death murders. Sutton had returned an indictment against that narco-trafficker, Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, in February 2004 that included five murder charges stemming from the House of Death killing machine. At least one of the murder victims was a U.S. legal resident, Luis Padilla.

The House of Death murders were carried out between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 with the help of an informant on the payroll of ICE. High-level officials within both the Department of Justice and ICE (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security) approved the informant’s continued use after they became aware of his participation in the initial House of Death torture/murder. [See link.]

The April 2004 letter from DEA to Sutton’s office recently leaked to Narco News makes it clear that the JAT represented evidence that Sutton would have to make available under the rules of evidence to Santillan’s defense attorney. It was considered “exculpatory” — a fancy legal term for evidence that is favorable to the defendant's case.

In essence, the JAT report details the government’s complicity in the House of Death murders, which, it could be argued, essentially makes the U.S. government a co-conspirator in the homicides along with Santillan’s narco-trafficking cell in Juarez.

This much we know because of a letter penned in February 2004 by Sandalio Gonzalez, the former agent in charge of DEA’s office in El Paso, Texas. That letter, which was provided to Sutton’s office, details the ICE informant’s role in facilitating the torture and murder of up to a dozen people at the House of Death.

Gonzalez’ letter alleges that the ICE informant carried out his bloody assignment with the approval of the U.S. government, until the entire operation was exposed after Santillan targeted a DEA agent and his family for a “carne asada” — a trip to the House of Death. [Link here.]

Gonzalez’ February 2004 letter caused a huge stir within the Justice Department after Sutton (a close friend of both President Bush and former Attorney General and then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales) used his pull within the Bush Administration to silence the DEA commander and to assure the letter did not find its way to the media. (Eventually, though, the Gonzalez letter did surface, in March 2005, via a Freedom of Information Act request by Narco News.)

Gonzalez’ letter, as well as the ongoing JAT investigation carried out in early 2004, were the subjects of high-level discussions within DOJ and DHS at the time, as the under-oath court testimony of former DEA Chief of Operations Mike Furgason reveals.

This testimony [link here], given in a December 2006 jury trial in federal court in Miami, relates specifically to the Gonzalez House of Death letter:

Q Now, what was your reaction, sir, when you found out about this letter?

Furgason: I was a little surprised. I mean, the way I found out about it, I was contacted initially about it by the United States Attorney's Office in San Antonio [Sutton’s office] who asked if I knew about this letter. I said, no, I was not, I wasn't aware of it. And then of course it wasn't long after that I was contacted by the Department of Justice by the deputy attorney general's office [James Comey’s office] and asked if I knew about the letter, and I said, no, I wasn't.  …

Q Was it an embarrassment to you?  

Furgason: Well, yeah. I mean because the day before I had briefed the attorney general [Ashcroft] and deputy attorney general [Comey] that we had a fact-finding team that had just returned [the JAT team], they were preparing a report, and as soon as the report was finished, I would come back and brief them on what was, you know, found and provide them a copy of the report.

And I might add, too, that while I was briefing the attorney general, John Clark, my counterpart [at ICE] was briefing the heads of Homeland Security, I think [Tom] Ridge at the time and Asa Hutcheson [then head of DHS’ Directorate of Border and Transportation Security and former head of the DEA]. So it was at the highest levels of these particular departments we were briefing them because it was a serious incident down in Juarez that could have potential ramifications between our governments [Mexico and the United States, since most of the murder victims were Mexican citizens], and they needed to know and they needed to know what was accurate.

So it was somewhat embarrassing as I left their office that I find out that a letter had been written sort of outlining a lot of the facts that the [still unreleased joint DEA/ICE JAT] team had uncovered. [emphasis added]

Michele Leonhart, the current Deputy Administrator of DEA, who also provided testimony in the same trial, had this to say, under oath, about Gonzalez’ letter:

Leonhart: Mr. Gonzalez, by writing the letter [to his counterpart at ICE and U.S. Attorney Sutton], it was at an inappropriate time, it was inflammable. It was nothing new. It was information that we already knew and had relayed to the highest levels of the DOJ, Department of Justice and ICE. [emphasis added]

So there you have it. Furgason and Leonhart, top-level DEA officials at the time of the House of Death murders, concede that Gonzalez’ February 2004 letter “outlines” the facts contained in the still-concealed JAT report. In addition, Furgason confirms that officials at the highest levels of the Bush administration were actively engaged in monitoring the House of Death case — and hence are arguably linked to the ongoing House of Death cover-up.

It is in that context that Sutton received the April 2004 letter from DEA — in the heat of a presidential election year.

That letter makes very clear to Sutton’s office that great efforts needed to be made to assure the JAT did not fall into the hands of Santillan’s lawyer or otherwise become public.

And, as a matter of fact, Santillan’s case never did go to trial. Sutton subsequently cut a plea deal with him — dropping all the murder charges — and thereby assuring that the JAT never saw the light of day.

Likewise, Gonzalez' February 2004 letter detailing the government’s complicity in the House of Death murders also was buried and Gonzalez retaliated against — eventually forced into retirement. In part, as a result of that retaliation, Gonzalez recently won a court victory against DEA in which the government agreed to award him $385,000.

Efforts to date to seek the release of the JAT (the Pentagon Papers of the House of Death) have been stonewalled by the Bush Administration — with the DEA going as far as to claim that the JAT is protected under national security. [Link here.]

So, for your viewing pleasure, we now present the letter that directly links U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Texas, to the House of Death cover-up — and proves that his office is in possession of the JAT report that would expose the Bush Administration’s complicity in mass murder in Juarez.


TO: Richard L. Durbin Jr.
Chief, Criminal Division
Office of the United States Attorney
Western District of Texas

FROM: Michelle O. Gutzmer
Acting Associate Chief Counsel
Domestic Criminal Law Section
[Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice]

SUBJECT: United States v. Heriberto Santillan-Tabares
Case No. EP-03-CR-2291KC

This memorandum is a partial response to your letter of April 6, 2004, to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Division Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez concerning the captioned [Santillan] case. In that letter you requested “any and all impeaching or otherwise exculpatory information relating to two essential witnesses for the Government (namely), Eduardo Ramirez, a.k.a Lalo [the ICE informant] (and) Jose Jaime Marquez [Ramirez’ assistant in the House of Death murders].

More specifically, this memorandum is in response to paragraph 10 of your letter in which you requested “(a) copy of the final report, any internal memorandum or other documents prepared by the joint management inquiry team [the DEA/ICE Joint Assessment Team].” Please note that the enclosed final report also includes a “Joint Assessment Team Timeline,” which is referenced in paragraph “9” of your letter. This report is being provided to you in its entirety because we fully appreciate your office’s need to review all potentially relevant information with regard to the Santillan-Tabares case, and we understand that disclosure of this information outside of the United States Attorney’s office will not be made without further notification to, and consultation with, DEA. …

[Footnote:] The additional assurances in your letter, especially the need for a protective order if disclosure is ordered by the court, are particularly appropriate as to these documents.

[Link to entire letter here.]

In April 2005, U.S. Attorney Sutton issued a press release announcing the plea deal his office cut with the narco-trafficker Santillan.

That plea deal, coincidentally, was announced within a month of Narco News’ obtaining and publishing in March 2005 on the Internet a copy of Gonzalez’ February 2004 House of Death letter. Also, apparently by coincidence, in May 2005, a month after the plea deal was announced, two ICE agents visited this reporter, at both his home and workplace, in an intimidating effort to obtain the names of sources. [Link here.]

Sutton offered the following explanation in his April 2005 press release as to why the government decided to drop the murder charges against Santillan:

In dropping the additional charges [the five murder charges] in exchange for Santillan-Tabares’ guilty plea, Sutton said that Mexico has a superior interest in prosecuting those responsible. All of the murders were committed in Ciudad Juarez, by Mexican citizens, including law enforcement officials, and all of the victims were citizens of Mexico. While much of the evidence relating to the murders is from Mexico, Sutton said his office would share with Mexican authorities any evidence developed in the United States.

You have to give Sutton credit for word choice. The informant Ramirez is, in fact, a Mexican citizen and a former Mexican cop, so technically the murders he helped to carry out do qualify as homicides committed by a Mexican citizen. (The small matter of the informant assisting in the murders under the direction of U.S. officials, however, was apparently not deemed worthy of mention by Sutton in the press release.)

Currently, the U.S. government is seeking to deport the informant, who claims that if he is returned to Mexico he will be murdered by the narco-traffickers he betrayed.

To date, though, there has been no consequence for the U.S. officials who betrayed justice and the American people by cutting a deal wih the devil in the House of Death.

Stay tuned….

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