U.S. Attorney General briefed on House of Death murders, DEA Administrator admits

Yet another layer of deceit in the House of Death cover-up is now being brought into the sunlight with the surfacing of more public documents.

These documents, pleadings from an employment discrimination case filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, show that the U.S. Attorney General himself was briefed on the House of Death case.

This latest evidence reveals that the trail of this cover-up of a U.S. government informant’s participation in mass murder extends from the federal agents who handled the informant, to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, to the administrator of the DEA and top officials within the Department of Homeland Security, to the top gun in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Yet, to date, no one, not the Congress, not the U.S. Courts, not the White House, not even the mainstream media has sought to expose the cover-up in this mass-murder case. Instead, as of this writing, only a lone whistleblower within DEA has been punished — his reputation tarnished by a negative job-performance review in retaliation for trying to expose the cover-up. Reminder of the crime  

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 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 a U.S. Attorney is now implicated in the cover-up of a U.S. government informant’s participation in mass murder.

More documents

Recently, 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 DEA Administrator Karen Tandy — were aware of the informant’s complicity in the murders in Juárez.

The new documents that have now surfaced in federal court in Miami, as part of an employment discrimination case Gonzalez has pending 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.

Congress and the media’s silence on this case is particularly disturbing, given the fact that a national whistleblower’s group recently has been very vocal about seeking an investigation of the cover-up.

In a letter sent last month to congressional leaders, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), demands the following:

That the Committee on Homeland Security, or individual members of the Committee, request a confidential briefing from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, and the Drug Enforcement Administration on the government actions surrounding the allegations by Mr. Gonzalez.

That the Committee on Homeland Security schedules a hearing on the actions concerning Mr. Gonzalez’ allegations of malfeasance and retaliation and subpoena appropriate witnesses to describe and explain those actions.


“Government employees should never be forced to choose between career and conscience when faced with agency wrongdoing,” Edmonds stated in a press release issued in early September to media nationwide by NSWBC. ”Universally respected and loved by the agents under his command, Mr. Gonzalez was retaliated against, forced into retirement, and took with him a vast amount of institutional memory and an extensive repertoire for securing our nation against its enemies. This is our country’s loss, thus congress must act.”

When asked by Narco News why there has been no media inquiry into the cover-up, Edmonds, who also is a whistleblower, replied that it seems investigative journalism is seemingly no longer valued by most media outlets in this country.

“They want everything chewed first and put in their mouths,” she added.

Tandy’s deposition

Following are some pre-chewed excerpts from DEA Administrator Tandy’s Aug. 23, 2005, deposition, which is filed in federal court in Miami. She is being questioned by former DEA agent Gonzalez’ attorney, Richard Diaz.

Diaz: Okay. And how did you learn of that (Gonzalez’ Feb. 24, 2004, letter to Sutton)?

Tandy: The letter?

Diaz: Yes.

Tandy:  I believe I was notified about the letter by the Deputy Attorney General’s office.

… Diaz:  And when you said utter loss or lack of confidence, based on the letter, what in particular in the letter caused you to have that utter lack of confidence?

Tandy:  The letter was inexcusable.

Diaz: Why?

Tandy: It was like tossing a hand grenade into the middle of a firefight. There was a substantial issue between DEA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, over ICE’s use of an informant. And the jeopardy that DEA agents and others had been placed in as a result of ICE’s handling of an informant that DEA had previously blackballed.

Mr. Gonzalez was very well aware at the time he sent that letter that this was a very sensitive, very delicate situation between DEA and ICE. It was such a significant issue for these two agencies, that I went personally to brief the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General over the issues with ICE, that I spoke to the U.S. Attorney [Sutton] about my concerns about the issues of ICE’s handling of this informant along with that U.S. Attorney’s AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden], that I met with DEA — personally met with in El Paso, the DEA agents, employees and their families, who had been evacuated from [Juárez] Mexico as a result of this issue — that we had requested, DEA headquarters had requested, an inter-agency ICE joint, ICE and DEA headquarters review team to go into Mexico and El Paso to review what had happened in this debacle, and that that team had been hand-selected by DEA and that that team had been on the ground, and was still in the course of conducting their joint review for a report jointly to DEA and ICE and ultimately to the Attorney General.

… Diaz: Based on your recollection of the letter, do you believe that anything that Mr. Gonzalez wrote in the letter was untruthful?

Tandy: I don’t have a recollection either way. It was such colossally poor, fatal judgment on Sandy’s [Gonzalez’] part, to get in the middle of what he knew was a sensitive, established, ongoing process to deal with the issues.

Diaz: Were you aware of the matters that were raised in the letter [which included the alleged complicity of ICE agents and a U.S. informant in mass murder] before you became aware of the letter [Gonzalez’ letter] itself?

Tandy: Absolutely. I had already briefed the Attorney General [Ashcroft] and Deputy Attorney General [Comey] on the issues, the underlying issues with ICE’s handling of this informant, along with the AUSA [Fielden].

[Note: Tandy sent an e-mail on March 5, 2004, to a number of high ranking Department of Justice officials — including Comey — concerning Gonzalez’ letter, indicating that she only recently became aware of it. In the e-mail, Tandy describes Gonzalez’ letter as “inexcusable” and indicates that she “apologized to Johnny Sutton … and he and I agreed on a no comment to the press.”]

… Diaz: When you say that Mr. Gonzalez exercised poor judgment in sending the letter, what would have been — once Mr. Gonzalez became aware of this issue, what, in your estimation, would have been the proper course of action for him to take? … Nothing at all or something different, and if so, what differently?

Tandy: This was being handled at the highest level of the Department of Justice and at the highest executive levels of ICE and DEA, at headquarters’ levels. Mr. Gonzalez knew that that is how this was being handled. He knew that that was the process that was sensitive and important to this agency ….

Apparently, so sensitive and important, that to date, nearly two years after the last of a dozen known people were tortured, murdered and buried in the backyard of a house in Juárez, Mexico, not a single prosecution has been pursued against anyone in relation to those slayings.

There are only two things necessary for a cover-up to succeed: that a crime is committed (in this case mass murder) and for those in power to do nothing about it. It seems the House of Death is the perfect crime by that measure, to date.

But then that doesn’t account for the dead, who have a way of haunting the living. And my bet is that there is a lot more haunting to come in this story.

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