House of Death, DEA Agent Leonhart and an Obama nomination

It’s been more than a year since Obama took office and his administration has been slow to fill top cabinet posts throughout the government. Many of Obama’s nominees failed the routine vetting process for a variety of reasons including; non-payment of taxes, communist leanings, illegally eavesdropping and now covering-up a 12-murder spree along the U.S./Mexico border.

Michele M. Leonhart is the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration within the Department of Justice and the president is looking to make her post permanent.

“The skill and dedication of these individuals will make them valued additions to my administration, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years,” said Obama in a press release.

Special Agent Leonhart has served in senior management roles in DEA headquarters as well as many Field Divisions across the U.S. Leonhart was also DEA’s first female Special Agent in Charge (“SAC”) and later became the SAC for the third largest field division, the DEA office in Los Angeles. She first joined the DEA in 1980 as a Special Agent in Minneapolis and St. Louis until moving up the DEA’s supervisory ranks in 1988.
It all looks good on paper, but when the vetting process begins to unravel, Leonhart’s competency comes apart at the seams.

The House of Death in Juarez Mexico

The House of Death is synonymous with torture, murder, cover-up and corruption in the highest order. The single most concerning aspect of this isn’t the murder itself, but rather the fact that the U.S. government not only knew about the dozen murders, but it directed an ICE informant to continue to collect information regarding a big Juarez cartel player, Heriberto Santillan-Tabares.

It is worth pointing out that there was already a pending drug case on Santillan (a top lieutenant of the drug cartel in Juarez) before the murders happened at the House of Death. In the end, he would be sent to prison for more than 25 years on the original drug charges, not for the murders he authorized and was charged with in the superseding indictment of February 18, 2004.

The House of Death case was spiraling out of control in El Paso. In testimony at former DEA El Paso SAC Sandalio Gonzalez’ discrimination trial in federal court, current Acting Administrator Leonhart acknowledged under oath that she notified Attorney General Ashcroft about the House of Death, and then DEA Administrator Karen Tandy did so as well. Tandy also testified to the fact the House of Death case was being handled at the highest levels of the Department of Justice.

In the end it would be the SAC from the DEA office in El Paso who would blow the whistle on this little shop of horrors after fellow DEA agents, residing in Juarez, were put in harm’s way. This led to the complete evacuation of DEA personnel in Juarez.

Sandalio Gonzalez, the DEA special agent in charge of El Paso ended the nonsense and fired off a four-page letter to his counterpart at ICE (John Gaudioso) as well as U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton. The fiery letter blasted those involved with the murder spree in Mexico under the guise of drug trafficking undercover infiltration of the Juarez cartel. The letter also did something nobody in DEA, ICE, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice wanted – provide a paper trail.

The letter laid out the case of travesty that U.S. law enforcement agencies overstepped their bounds and allowed 12 murders to take place. Adding fuel to the fire Gonzalez was reprimanded for writing the letter about the shenanigans at the House of Death. He would be removed from the House of Death case by his superiors in Washington and ordered not to talk about it to the press.

This would not be the end of Gonzalez’ involvement in the House of Death. During sworn testimony at his civil trial for workplace retaliation, Leonhart claimed that Gonzalez should have cleared the letter with her office prior to sending it. This would be her first lie under oath. As a SAC for DEA, Gonzalez was completely within his power to write a letter to his counterpart at ICE and to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, about the obvious mishandling of an investigation involving a dozen murders.

Lie number two would come in the context of this, “I remember occasions when he (Gonzalez) would have issues with the U.S. Attorney’s office and would even show me a draft letter before he went and sent it or would talk to headquarters and get some guidance before he would send it.” This was news to Gonzalez and he made it crystal clear in his rebuttal testimony that was not DEA protocol because he was a Senior DEA Executive in charge of a Field Division. This gave him the authority to sign official correspondence on behalf of DEA in his division.

The criticism didn’t stop with Leonhart. Catherine O’Neil, director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Task Force, described Gonzalez’ letter as “inflammatory.” O’Neil was compelled to pass on U.S. Attorney Sutton’s fears to the Attorney General, John Ashcroft as well as DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. (Link to letter )

Tandy explains she was horrified by Gonzalez’ letter. “I apologized to Johnny Sutton last night and he and I agreed on a ‘no comment’ to the press,” she stated in an email.

Leonhart, the current Deputy Administrator of DEA, further explains her frustration in court testimony; “Mr. Gonzalez, by writing the letter [to his counterpart at ICE and U.S. Attorney Sutton], it was at an inappropriate time, it was inflammable. It was nothing new. It was information that we already knew and had relayed to the highest levels of the DOJ, Department of Justice and ICE.” Begging the question if all the players in D.C. knew about the murderous rampage why did they do nothing to shut the operation down?

Even with Leonhart and other present and former DEA top executives testifying against him under oath, in December 2006 the jury in Gonzalez’ civil action ruled in his favor by finding that the DEA had retaliated against him in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.

House of Death blows up

The event that would shut down the operation in Juarez was a credible threat to DEA agents by corrupt Juarez police and paranoid drug cartel leaders. “Because I’m the deputy administrator, when there are critical incidents or serious matters, I’m briefed very often by the chief of operations. And it was brought to my attention that we had an agent and his family pulled over by a Mexican police officer and some other individuals [on Jan. 14, 2004], and I was also advised that we believed that those people had been to his [the DEA agent’s] home earlier,” Leonhart said on the record.

Once the fallout settled Washington ordered a Joint Assessment Team (JAT) consisting of both ICE and DEA personnel, which interviewed more than 40 participants on both sides of the border.

In essence, it is believed that the JAT report details the government’s complicity in the House of Death murders, which, it could be argued, essentially makes the U.S. government a co-conspirator in the homicides along with Santillan’s narco-trafficking cell in Juarez.

A letter from DEA headquarters in Washington and the Department of Justice, to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s office is proof that the JAT report does in fact exist. It also shows that Washington was concerned enough about a possible public relations disaster and then they buried the JAT report and settled their case against Santillan in a plea deal which didn’t include any murder charges.

The memorandum read, “This is a partial response to your letter of April 6, 2004, to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Division Special Agent in Charge Sandalio Gonzalez concerning the captioned [Santillan] case. In that letter you requested any and all impeaching or otherwise exculpatory information relating to two essential witnesses for the Government (namely), Eduardo Ramirez, a.k.a Lalo [the ICE informant] (and) Jose Jaime Marquez [Ramirez’ assistant in the House of Death murders].

More specifically, this memorandum is in response to paragraph 10 of your letter in which you requested ‘(a) copy of the final report, any internal memorandum or other documents prepared by the joint management inquiry team [the DEA/ICE Joint Assessment Team].’ Please note that the enclosed final report also includes a ‘Joint Assessment Team Timeline,’ which is referenced in paragraph “9” of your letter. This report is being provided to you in its entirety because we fully appreciate your office’s need to review all potentially relevant information with regard to the Santillan-Tabares case, and we understand that disclosure of this information outside of the United States Attorney’s office will not be made without further notification to, and consultation with, DEA,” the memo states.

It was expected that Sutton would have shut down the case after the first murder, according to Bill Weaver, a law professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has written extensively about the murder case. Sutton should have told ICE to “go with what you have, and let’s try to bring Santillan to justice.”

The letter from Washington makes it very clear to Sutton’s office that great efforts are needed to assure the JAT report did not fall into the hands of Santillan’s lawyer or otherwise become public. And, as a matter of fact, Santillan’s case never did go to trial. A pending case on Santillan for drug charges would be used to send him to prison for more than 25 years. He would not face the murder charges that he authorized and was charged with in the superseding indictment of February 18, 2004. In essence, Sutton cut a plea deal with him, dropping all the murder charges and assuring that the JAT report never saw the light of day.

The Washington letter directly links U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, to the House of Death cover-up and proves that his office is in possession of the JAT report that could expose the Bush Administration’s complicity in a dozen murders in Juarez, Mexico. There have been several Freedom of Information Act requests filed to get the JAT report, but none have been successful and the report remains buried in Washington D.C.
Further court testimony explains who was notified once the House of Death came to an end and of the plan in place with the acknowledged approval of the attorney general on how to handle the investigation of what events occurred in Ciudad Juarez.

Leonhart describes what happened next. “We notified the attorney general of the United States and the deputy attorney general of the United States [James Comey] of what we had learned and the events and our concerns. We told him that we had talked to customs and let them know what we had found out. Our administrator [DEA’s Karen Tandy] had also contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office [Sutton in San Antonio], and we thought the best thing we could do is get the agencies together, put an independent review team together to go down and find the facts because the person I was talking to said he had a different set of facts and didn’t see it the way that we saw it.”

When asked if the case was being handled at the highest levels of government Leonhart’s replies, “absolutely.” She then goes on to place the blame for the House of Death murder spree on ICE. “Yes, it was ICE’s fault.”

Another glitch on the resume

This dubious death case is not the only question mark in Leonhart’s DEA resume. She had an association with super-snitch Andrew Chambers. This informant who reported to Leonhart directly cost taxpayers $2.2 million. During his tenure working for Leonhart, he was caught perjuring himself repeatedly.
“The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called him (Chambers) a liar and the 8th Circuit of Court of Appeals echoed that verdict two years later.”

According to Leonhart continued to use Chambers and the DEA protected him. “The DEA protected him, failing to notify prosecutors and defense attorneys about his record. At one point, DEA and the Justice Department for 17 months stalled a public defender seeking to examine the results of DEA’s background check on Chambers. Even after the agency knew its snitch was rotten, it refused to stop using Chambers, and it took the intervention of then Attorney General Janet Reno to force the agency to quit using him.

When Leonhart was repeatedly questioned about Chambers regarding his credibility problems, and if the agency should stop using him, she replied, “That would be a sad day for DEA, and a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world. He’s one in a million. In my career, I’ll probably never come across another Andrew.”

Another Leonhart shocking statement about Chambers includes this, “The only criticism (of Chambers) I’ve ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand.” She goes on to say Chambers “is an outstanding testifier.” Really?

The House of Death and non-trustworthy informant, Chambers, provide a pattern for critics and directly questions Leonhart’s ability to reliably make important decisions.

The beginning of the end for the House of Death

As a result of conflicting reports about the situation by both DEA and ICE, the Joint Assessment Team was convened to review the situation. According to Gonzalez, he was blocked from gaining a copy of the report, though during his civil trial then Deputy Administrator Leonhart stated he had been informed he’d get a copy of it. Gonzalez, who retired in 2005, never saw the JAT report even though he was the DEA SAC in El Paso, and the team putting together the report questioned him directly.

Gonzalez believes, “They (ICE and DEA) needed to get their stories straight. It was clear that DEA and ICE had a strained relationship and there was a lot of finger pointing, but in the end DEA was out of the loop. We had the wisdom to deactivate Lalo when he tried to cross the U.S. border with 100 pounds of marijuana, however; ICE kept him around.”

At this point, former U.S. Attorney Pete Nunez said, “Heads should have rolled in this case.” Yet no high-ranking U.S. officials lost their jobs, nor were they prosecuted.

In April of 2004 a plea agreement was reached regarding the murders in the House of Death case. The cartel leader, Santillan pled guilty to drug trafficking while the murder charges were dropped.

Sutton’s involvement with the House of Death would not be the last high profile case he would be in charge of. He was directly involved with the Ramos and Compean case in which two Border Patrol Agents were convicted of shooting a drug dealer illegally and for their mishandling of the case they received 10-11 years of prison time. (President Bush would later commute their sentences on his last day in office).

“This case (Ramos-Compean) was a skunk. It had a terrible odor,” explains Congressman Walter B. Jones-R NC. “I always wondered why there was no investigation in this matter and why the Mexican Government had so much sway in this American case involving Border Patrol Agents.”

For Congressman Jones and a few other Congressional members the story is becoming increasingly clear, referring to the House of Death. “This conspiracy, corruption and cover-up screams for immediate Congressional investigation.”

“Wrong is wrong, and after reading more about this case it was expected that Sutton would have shut down the House of Death case after the first murder. He did not. We need to remember we are a nation of laws,” Jones finished.

The fact remains that Gonzalez’ letter guaranteed an honest agent put something on record confronting the issue of murder itself. That could not be buried as it was his memo, unlike the JAT team report, the official interagency report, which remains buried to this date. The result is a full cover up of murder with conspiracy to cover-up accessories to murder and obstruction of justice all the way up DHS and DOJ.

With the nomination of the top DEA post by President Obama, Leonhart and the circumstances surrounding the House of Death require a full investigation. If this case was indeed mishandled, Leonhart was a big player smack dab in the middle of a cover up of a murder spree in a foreign country.

Why do mainstream media and many Washington players ignore the fact the U.S. government consented to a dozen gruesome murders? In Mexico murder may be the norm, but in America the rule of law rules the day. Yet, Congress and the media continue to waste time with the college football championships and baseball stars that use steroids. America is screaming for change in Washington, perhaps this DEA appointment by Obama will shed some light on a dark period in American history.

Part two will post tomorrow.

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About thekdreport

Investigative journalist

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