Another Travesty of Justice in "House of Death" Case

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio has done it again. In what can only be seen as an effort to tie off all the loose ends in the cover-up in the House of Death mass murder case, U.S. federal prosecutors have decided not to pursue Mexican state judicial police comandante Miguel Loya Gallegos.

Loya, along with Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, who U.S. prosecutors claim is a top lieutenant in Vicente Carrillo Fuentes’ Juárez drug organization, had been facing murder and drug-trafficking charges in relation to the torture and slayings of a dozen people found buried in the backyard of a house in Ciudad Juárez, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas. In late April, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that it had cut a deal with Santillan in which it dropped murder charges against him in exchange for a 25-year sentence for pleading guilty to “conducting a continuing criminal enterprise.”

That star witness against Santillan was an informant on the payroll of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The informant, Jesus Contreras, also known as Lalo, had infiltrated the Santillan organization and, under the watch of ICE agents, participated in many of the murders in Ciudad Juárez.

One of the victims of the House of Death was a U.S. resident, 29-year-old Luis Padilla, who left behind a wife and three small kids. Padilla’s family has a pending lawsuit against the ICE officials who allegedly were complicit in his murder.

Loya, according to law-enforcement sources, oversaw the House of Death and was on the payroll of the Santillan organization. The mass-murder machine run by Loya and his henchmen -- including the ICE informant Contreras and other Mexican state judicial police officers -- came undone after a DEA agent and his family were pulled over mistakenly in Juarez by police under the charge of Loya.

From a story that appeared in Narco News in April 2004:

 

Mexican state police Commander Miguel Loya Gallegos disappeared in January.

Several of his associates disappeared, too, vexing law enforcement agents who say their mysterious disappearance -- and consequent unavailability as potential witnesses to multiple murders -- could prove very convenient to U.S. prosecutors and a confidential informant under their protection.

U.S. law enforcement agents, coming forward on the condition of anonymity, believe that the comandante -- the U.S. Attorney indicted him in Texas as part of an alleged drug-smuggling organization -- was witness to up to nine murders committed by a confidential informant while that informant was on the payroll of the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

… How many murders allegedly occurred under the reign of terror by Loya and his henchman is not known. One law enforcement source contends that the comandante’s brush with the DEA didn’t seem to deter him one bit. He says that the day after the DEA agents were stopped in Juarez, Loya was responsible for “whacking another person and leaving another one near death.”

“God knows how many more murders he and his men committed that we do not know about,” the law enforcement source adds.

Unfortunately, we may never know. Within days of the traffic stop involving the federal agents, DEA officials tried to arrange a meeting between the informant and Loya, to create an opportunity for Mexican federal agents to swoop in and arrest Loya. According to law enforcement sources, someone at ICE or the U.S. Attorney’s office in El Paso jammed them up and wouldn’t let the informant arrange the meeting.

As a consequence, Loya and three of his associates, “vanished into thin air,” one law enforcement source says.

The plan to snare Loya was undermined, law enforcement sources contend, because Loya would have fingered the informant as a co-conspirator in the murders at the death house. That, in turn, would have blown apart the legal cases against Santillan and the alleged cigarette smuggler Abraham.

So Loya and his henchmen escaped justice once with the help of federal law enforcers in El Paso, and federal prosecutors in San Antonio have once again given him a free pass on murder.

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who allegedly retaliated against a DEA supervisor who blew the whistle on the ICE agents’ complicity in mass murder, cut the deal that let Santillan off the hook, and he again rubber stamped the get-out-of-jail-free card for Loya.

From a story this week in the San Antonio Express-News:

 

Shielded by the badge, corrupt Mexican cops pulled over at least a dozen people who crossed the Juárez drug cartel and kidnapped them for a "carne asada" or "barbecue" — a term referring to the systematic torture, beatings and killings of the victims, prosecutors allege.

As they met their gruesome end, authorities and court records allege, they were buried in the garden of a home in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso. In January 2004, authorities unearthed the bodies, news that circulated the globe.

Now, court documents show none of the accused police officers will face the U.S. judicial system.

Federal prosecutors in El Paso and San Antonio have dropped murder and drug-trafficking charges against Miguel Loya Gallegos, 35, a top police commander for the Chihuahua state judicial police, accused of supervising several of the killings.

Drug-trafficking and organized crime charges also were dropped against three men accused of being associates of the Juárez cartel: Edmundo Castillo Flores, 51, Edgar Noe Gandara and Manuel Lujan. All were fugitives when the charges were dismissed.

In a prepared statement, San Antonio-based U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton said Mexico has a superior interest in prosecuting those responsible for the slayings.

That exact same reasoning, that Mexico has a superior interest in the case, is what Sutton advanced in dropping the murder charges against Santillan.

From Sutton’s press release announcing the Santillan plea deal:

 

In dropping the additional 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.

But the truth, it seems, is that the real reason the murder charges are being dropped is that federal prosecutors and ICE officials have a “superior interest” in protecting their own asses and career ambitions.

With the charges dropped, the legal trail back to them has been severed. There will be no public trial where the deeds of the U.S. prosecutors and ICE agents can be exposed to the light of day.

Instead, hiding behind a shield of hypocrisy –- remember, federal prosecutors and ICE agents previously let Loya escape Mexican justice –- the U.S. Attorney in San Antonio has, in effect, turned a blind eye to murder, with the justification that it was Mexicans who were slaughtered. It seems a message also is being sent that maintaining the pretense of the war on drugs is more important than pursuing murderers.

Because for all we know, Loya and his henchmen are still out there, putting a down payment on the next House of Death.

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