The ongoing cover-up of a U.S. government informant's
participation in mass murder in a Mexican border town extends to the highest
level of the U.S. Justice Department, recently obtained public documents show.
Court testimony from DEA Administrator Karen Tandy confirms
that the attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft, was briefed on the U.S.
prosecutor's and federal agents' complicity in the murders. However, to date,
no one has been prosecuted for these �House of Death� homicides.
The informant helped carry out the slayings of a dozen
people -- all tortured, murdered and buried in the backyard of a house in
Ju�rez, a sister city to El Paso, Texas. The murders occurred between August
2003 and mid-January 2004 while the informant was under the watch of federal
agents and a U.S. prosecutor. The U.S. law enforcers allegedly allowed the
homicides to occur in order to make a drug case against a narco-trafficker.
Tandy�s testimony reveals that the trail of the cover-up
extends from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 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 ICE, 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 shine a light on
In a recent deposition taken as part of an employment
discrimination case, the DEA whistleblower's attorney queries DEA Administrator
Tandy about why she retaliated against the agent for writing an internal letter
to Johnny Sutton, the U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, Texas. In that letter,
written in February 2004, the DEA agent, a high-ranking supervisor named
Sandalio Gonzalez, exposed the informant's and federal agents' complicity in
the mass murder. Gonzalez wrote the letter after the DEA evacuated its
personnel from Ju�rez because the informant�s activities nearly resulted in the
murder of a DEA agent and his family.
Sutton, who oversaw the prosecutor leading the narco
investigation that led to the House of Death homicides, responded to Gonzalez�
letter not by investigating the charges, but rather by using his connections
within the Justice Department to strike back at Gonzalez.
To make matters worse, after Ashcroft retired, his
successor, Alberto Gonzales, allowed the cover-up to continue, and actually
promoted Sutton to the post of vice chairman of his Advisory Committee of U.S.
Attorneys, which plays a key role in determining DOJ policies and programs.
Following is an excerpt from Tandy�s House of Death-related court
deposition -- which was filed in August of this year in federal court in Miami.
She is being interviewed by Gonzalez� attorney, Richard Diaz.
Diaz: Okay. And how did you learn of that (Gonzalez' Feb.
24, 2004, letter to Sutton)?
Tandy: The letter?
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 [in
Tandy: The letter was inexcusable.
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 [Ju�rez] 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'
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
[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." The e-mail also is part of the record in
this same case in federal court in Miami.]
. . . 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. . . .
Haunting the Living
Apparently, government officials involved in this cover-up
found the informant�s and law enforcers� behavior in this case to be 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 Ju�rez, not a single prosecution has been pursued against anyone in
relation to those slayings.
In fact, murder charges against Heriberto Santillan-Tabares,
the narco-trafficker who was the target of the investigation, were actually
dropped as part of a plea deal that kept the whole sordid affair from ever
being exposed in a courtroom.
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.
Conroy is an investigative journalist based in Texas who is a regular
contributor to the online investigative publication Narco News, where he has
been reporting on this story since 2004. He can be contacted at