U.S. government tried to deport House of Death informant

The attorney representing the House of Death informant “Lalo” has provided more information that creates a little more clarity about her client’s immigration status.

Jodi Goodwin, a Harlingen, Texas-based immigration attorney, says Lalo never applied for asylum in the United States, because “he is not eligible.”

Rather, she says Lalo was thrust into a fight over his immigration status because the U.S. government initiated deportation proceedings against him.

“The government started deportation proceedings after they picked him up,” Goodwin adds.

However, Goodwin could not recall the precise date that Lalo was transferred from the “U.S. Marshals [protective custody] to Immigration.”

This revelation raises an interesting question. Why did the U.S. government deem it necessary to expend taxpayer resources to provide federal "protection" to the informant, and then suddenly decide to deport the very person they were protecting? Vanishing act

After the lid was blown off the House of Death murders in mid-January 2004, Lalo’s sponsoring agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), did its best to keep their informant deep-sixed — out of the public eye. That’s because over the prior four and a half months, Lalo, while working under the supervision of ICE agents and a federal prosecutor in El Paso, Texas, had helped torture and murder a dozen people at the House of Death in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez.

The DEA was forced to evacuate its personnel from Juárez on Jan. 14, 2004, after the House of Death killers pulled over the car of one of its agents (and his family). The agent apparently had been mistakenly identified as a rival narco-trafficker, and the agent and his family narrowly escaped a trip to the House of Death.

Several sources within the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE, previously told Narco News that Lalo was moved around frequently after DEA was forced to evacuate its agents from Juárez and the full extent of his — and the ICE agents’ and U.S. prosecutor’s — complicity in the murders became known to DEA.

“They [the ICE agents and U.S. prosecutor in El Paso] couldn’t get rid of him [Lalo], so they tried to control him, and they moved him from place to place, to Albuquerque [N.M.] then to San Antonio [Texas], so no one could talk to him,” one source told Narco News.

Then, the first hints of the informant’s role in the murders in Juárez hit the media in the spring of 2004, and the cover-up went into full swing, according to sources. The problem is that the informant Lalo had leverage because of what he knew. He was demanding more money, sources told Narco News.

That’s what allegedly led one high-level ICE supervisor in El Paso, sometime between March and June of 2004, to put a payment through to Lalo using a dead informant’s “source number,” which is a number assigned to all confidential sources in order to keep their identity concealed.

Although it is not clear how much money was given to Lalo through this means, sources indicate that it was discovered by someone at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Narco News sources also allege that ICE documents related to the House of Death case were shredded after the House of Death murders started to draw public attention.

Protective custody

However, in August of 2004, for some reason that is not completely clear, Lalo was escorted by federal agents from San Antonio back to El Paso, Texas. While in El Paso, Lalo arranged to pick up some money he claimed he was owed by some unknown third party.

Lalo, though, didn’t go himself to pick up the money at the drop site — a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in El Paso. Instead, he sent an acquaintance, Abraham Guzman, a 27-year-old father of a two-week old baby. Unfortunately for Guzman, the drop site was a set-up, and he was shot dead after thugs mistook him for the informant Lalo.

From a prior Narco News story:

Lalo asked Guzman to do the money run for him [in Lalo’s vehicle], according to law enforcement sources. Lalo also asked his girlfriend to accompany Guzman to the drop site in a separate vehicle.

“Apparently, Lalo was in El Paso to get dope money,” explains one law enforcer, who is describing the girlfriend’s version of events. “He was afraid, so he asked his friend [Guzman] to do the pick up.

“... The girlfriend is following Guzman and sees him park the SUV at the Whataburger. She then drives around the building to face him. By the time she gets around, Guzman has already been shot four times.”

After the Guzman murder, Lalo was jailed and later placed in protective custody and concealed at an unknown location.

It was sometime after that point in time, then, that the U.S. government initiated deportation proceedings against Lalo.

Interestingly, that is in the same timeframe that the criminal case against Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, the narco-trafficker who oversaw the House of Death, was in full swing in U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

Santillan was indicted on narco-trafficking charges originally in December 2003. A superseding indictment, adding murder charges, was returned two months later in late February 2004.

The superseding indictment was announced about a month after the Jan. 14, 2004, incident in which a DEA agent and his family narrowly escaped a trip to the House of Death.

Examining the motives

Could it be that U.S. prosecutors were never really serious about pursuing murder charges against Santillan? Was the superseding indictment little more than a public relations act designed to appease the growing outrage within DEA prompted by the fact that one of its agents and his family were nearly murdered?

But then, there could well be another explanation for how things played out. Maybe the plan all along was to get a high-profile conviction (a death sentence in this case) against a major narco-trafficker like Santillan, who supposedly was a top lieutenant in Vicente Carrillo Fuentes’ Juárez drug organization.

In the superseding indictment, Santillan was charged with cocaine and marijuana smuggling along with five counts of murder — all occurring as part of a "continuing criminal enterprise." His case was slated to go to trial in May 2005 in federal district court in San Antonio.

However, if the U.S. Attorney's plan was to nail Santillan and bask in the glory of major drug-war victory, something went terribly wrong.

In April 2005, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio cut a plea deal with Santillan. Under the deal, Santillan was sentenced to 25 years in prison for “conducting a continuing criminal enterprise,” according to Sutton’s office. All of the murder charges against him were dropped.

Of course, one of the chief witnesses to those murders was ICE's own informant, Lalo. If the U.S. government's efforts to deport him failed, then he would have been available to testify in the Santillan case. That would have been quite a bitter pill for Sutton and the prosecuting team — given that Lalo also participated in the murders while working for the U.S. government.

But, because Goodwin was unable to provide the precise date as to when deportation proceedings against Lalo were initiated, we cannot be certain if his deportation was part of the U.S. government's strategy in the Santillan trial. (At a minimum, if Lalo was still under protective custody at the time of the Santillan court proceedings, it is clear the U.S. government had him on a very short leash.)

All we know for sure is that Lalo was not called as a witness in open court and that Santillan's attorneys managed to negotiate a sweetheart plea deal with Sutton's office.

Lalo has since been granted some temporary “relief” that spares him from deportation, for now, and he remains in the United States, according to Goodwin. But she adds that his immigration status is not “resolved completely.”

However, the fact that the U.S. government sought to deport Lalo does support a theory advanced by several law enforcers who spoke with Narco News.

Those sources claim that high-level officials within the U.S. departments of Justice and Homeland Security do want to silence Lalo. They want to assure, the sources claim, that he never has an opportunity to expose his role — and the complicity of U.S. government — in the House of Death mass murder.

A trip back to Mexico via deportation would deliver Lalo to an almost certain death at the hands of the narco-traffickers he betrayed — effectively covering the tracks of the House of Death cover-up in more blood.

Goodwin declined to comment about the current whereabouts of Lalo, for obvious reasons.

For more developing information on this story, check out the following link: U.S. Attorney General backing effort to silence House of Death informant

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