Gonzalez says it was never his intention that the memo find its way to the press. "My intent when I wrote the memo was, hey, here's what we found out, and like I said before, this is reprehensible, and here's a courtesy copy for you, U.S. Attorney's Office, because you're a prosecutorial authority, and there may have been crimes committed here."

"What Sandy was convinced was going to happen, because he had seen it time and time again, was that nothing was going to happen," says UTEP law professor Weaver, who is also the senior advisor for the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. "Nobody was going to be called on the carpet. You'd have 12 people dead, 15 if you count the three slaughtered outside the house, you'd have an informant running ICE like a bunch of monkeys, you'd have DEA cut out of communications and you'd almost have the death of a DEA member and his family and nothing was going to occur. No accountability, no nothing.

"It was going to be business as usual, and this whole thing was going to be swept under the rug. And Sandy, I think, made a conscious decision. When he wrote that memo he knew he was putting his career on the line, but he didn't want this thing to go away."

La Casa de la Muerte
Craig Larotonda
La Casa de la Muerte
Lalo used to work for the Mexican highway patrol.
Lalo used to work for the Mexican highway patrol.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in El Paso did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story, nor did the ICE office in El Paso. The U.S. Attorney's Office in San Antonio referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office of Eastern Louisiana, which declined comment. A spokeswoman for DEA administrator Karen Tandy said the agency would have no comment.

The definitive account of what happened at the House of Death may be the report compiled by the Joint Assessment Team, which conducted 44 interviews of U.S. Department of Justice personnel after the House of Death was discovered. To date, the Department of Justice has refused to release this report.

One can speculate, however, that some of the agents who were aware of what was happening at the House of Death allowed it to continue, believing that the end would justify the means. That argument could still be made. Everyone who died at the House of Death was at one time or another involved in drug trafficking. Because of Lalo, Santillan, the boss of the cartel in Juárez, was taken down. Others went into hiding, and the cartel suffered a serious blow. It hasn't been the same since.

Still, none of the killings after the death of Fernando Reyes had to happen, Gonzalez says. Santillan could have been lured to El Paso and arrested after that murder. Why did they wait nine more months to arrest him?

In sworn affidavits, Lalo's handler at ICE, Raul Bencomo; his supervisor, Curtis Compton; and the agent in charge of the El Paso office, Giovanni Gaudioso, all testified that they didn't know about any of the murders that occurred after the first one. Also in a sworn affidavit, Juanita Fielden of the U.S. Attorney's Office in El Paso said she began preparing an indictment against Santillan in November 2003, and that from that moment preparations were being made to arrest him.

Gonzalez has problems with this explanation.

"So through August and September and October and almost all of November, they were planning and gathering stuff for this?" Gonzalez says. "See, I don't think so. You know why? Because they didn't indict him for murder, number one. And the dope case they indicted him for had been done months before. So how long does it take them to put a routine case together?"

Gonzalez thinks ICE delayed arresting Santillan because they wanted to keep using Lalo in another case involving a cigarette smuggler out of New Mexico. According to what Gonzalez has heard, ICE had been chasing the suspect for some time and didn't have enough to take him down. So they brought Lalo in with hopes that he could dirty up the smuggler by convincing him to haul cocaine.

"Why was this allowed to go on? That's the question that needs to be asked by a congressional committee or a special prosecutor," Gonzalez says. "These guys have to answer that question. Because there is no good answer. Do you say, 'Well, we're working on this big case and we're trying to penetrate the organization?' The organization's already been penetrated. You've got a top lieutenant and a good dope case and a murder. What more do you want?"

To date, Gonzalez and Weaver have met twice with U.S. Senate staffers, requesting a congressional hearing to look into the matter. So far they have been ignored.


It is February 2007. Three years have passed since the House of Death was first discovered. Today, the house is abandoned. In place of a doorknob, there is a strand of rusted wire running through an empty hole.

They say the cartel still watches the house, that everywhere you go in Juárez there are little shopkeepers and flower vendors who are paid to be the eyes and ears of the cartel. But others say these are just stories. Yes, Juárez is dangerous, they say, but the violence is contained in the drug world, just like in any other big city.

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