Another Lawsuit Filed in House of Death Case
Justice and Customs Officials Named for Alleged Responsibility in Juarez, Mexico Mass Murder
By Bill Conroy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
August 31, 2005
The attorney representing the family of one of the murder victims in the House of Death case has filed yet another civil lawsuit targeting U.S. law enforcers as well as a government informant who allegedly participated in the homicides.
Raul Loya, a Dallas civil rights attorney who is representing the family of House of Death murder victim Luis Padilla, recently filed litigation in federal court in El Paso on behalf of the family of the first known murder victim in the House of Death case, Mexican attorney Fernando Reyes.
The litigation accuses the informant known as “Lalo,” and his U.S. government handlers, of violating Reyes’ civil rights. Lalo allegedly supervised Reyes’ murder in August 2003, according to the lawsuit.
Several agents and supervisors with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who oversaw the informant, as well as an assistant U.S. prosecutor, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
They include ICE officials Giovanni Gaudioso, Patricia Kramer, Curtis Compton and Raul Bencomo. Also named in the litigation is Juanita Fielden, an assistant U.S. Attorney in El Paso.
From the litigation (PDF):
The actions and omissions of Defendants … in recruiting, encouraging and allowing (the informant) to torture and kill several victims including Fernando Reyes, under the shield of law was characterized by ill will, spite, evil motive, and a purpose to injure constituting malice. Such malice gave rise to a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to the Decedent Fernando Reyes and his survivors. As a result, the Plaintiffs are entitled to recover all damages allowed by law on account of Defendants … actions and omissions constituting malice.
Loya’s lawsuit stems from a series of gruesome murders that occurred between August 2003 and mid-January 2004. Over that period, a dozen people, including Reyes, were tortured, murdered and then buried in the yard of a house in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez.
The informant Lalo, according to law enforcement sources, participated in many of those murders.
The informant’s handlers, agents and supervisors with the El Paso office of ICE, were allegedly fully aware of the Lalo’s complicity in the murders. However, they did nothing to stop the killing for fear of jeopardizing a narco-trafficking case and a separate cigarette-smuggling case that they were trying to make with the informant’s help.
From Narco News’ original House of Death story, published in April 2004:
The informant had been on the payroll of ICE (and its predecessor agency, U.S. Customs) since the late 1990s. The informant also worked for DEA for a short time, but was “deactivated” by the agency in July 2003 – after he was caught trying to run 200 kilos of grass across the border. That bust never showed up on his record, though, as drug trafficking charges were conveniently not pursued by U.S. prosecutors, allowing the informant to continue working for ICE.
Even before the (House of Death) murders came to light, the informant allegedly influenced the U.S. Attorney’s Office in El Paso to delay the indictment of Abraham in the cigarette smuggling case. The investigation in that case was launched in 2000 and was wrapped up by the winter of 2003. However, according to law enforcement sources, the decision was made to delay the indictment because it was feared the identity of the informant would surface in a trial, thereby jeopardizing the informant’s sting of the Santillan (narco-trafficking) organization.
Both the cigarette and narco-trafficking cases were under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fielden worked closely with the ICE supervisors and agents in El Paso who handled the informant at the center of both cases.
Loya also is representing another House of Death murder victim, Luis Padilla, in a pending lawsuit filed last October against Fielden and the same ICE officials named in the recent Reyes pleadings. Padilla was allegedly picked up by narco-traffickers and brought to the House of Death in Juarez because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Loya did say that Padilla, a 29-year-old resident of El Paso at the time of his death, was not a naturalized U.S. citizen. However, he stressed that Padilla was a long-time legal resident of the United States, with three children, and was a 1995 graduate of Socorro High School. The community of Socorro is located on the Texas-side of the border just outside of El Paso.
From the Padilla lawsuit:
On or about January 8th, 2004 … (Lalo) and his cohorts targeted a courier for the “carne asada” or barbeque. The reference is meant to signify the usual abduction, torture, and killing…
But as usual, others were abducted along with the target. Making a day trip to Juarez, Luis Padilla, an El Paso resident, was also taken. A victim of the (Lalo’s) hit squad, Padilla was never again seen by his family. In an attempt to leave no trace, Padilla and the target were killed by (Lalo) and the cartel. His mutilated body was eventually identified at the Parsioneros house in Juárez.
Loya’s pleadings in the Reyes case are lifted largely from a letter written earlier this year by Sandalio Gonzalez, the former special agent in charge of DEA’s operations in El Paso. That letter surfaced initially through a Freedom of Information Request filed by Narco News.
Gonzalez fired off the letter in February 2005 to U.S. Attorney Sutton and ICE officials in El Paso blowing the whistle on the alleged cover-up in the House of Death case.
The letter exposed federal agents’ complicity in the House of Death murders in Juárez.
Gonzalez claims that DEA brass retaliated against him because his letter ruffled U.S. Attorney Sutton’s feathers.
The letter represents evidence that the government had screwed up. As a result, Gonzalez was told to shut up, his work record tarnished in retaliation and the letter buried.
Sutton’s office earlier this year cut a plea deal with narco-trafficker Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, the alleged ring leader behind the House of Death murders. As part of the plea bargain, the murder charges against Santillan were dropped.
In addition, Sutton also dropped murder and narco-trafficking charges against Santillan’s alleged underlings. The murder charges were dismissed and the plea deal struck, law enforcement sources content, to avoid a public trial that might expose the complicity of ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the House of Death murders.
Gonzalez is currently pursuing a claim through the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board to clear his name and to expose the alleged ongoing cover-up.
Gonzalez contends that had Sutton taken action sooner in the House of Death case, more than a dozen people might still be alive today. As a result, Gonzalez says Congress must act now to get to the bottom of what Sutton knew, and when he knew it.
“Unless some Congressional committee subpoenas Sutton to answer questions about this, the cover-up will continue,” Gonzalez said, in an exclusive interview with Narco News.
More to come
Loya told Narco News that he may also file another lawsuit in the near future on behalf of the family of Abraham Guzman, yet another homicide victim tied to the House of Death case.
Guzman was a U.S. citizen who was murdered last year in El Paso by thugs who mistook him for the informant Lalo. An unknown assailant shot Guzman to death in August 2004 at a Whataburger fast-food restaurant in El Paso. Guzman had agreed to go to the site for Lalo to pick up some money the informant allegedly was owed from a past drug deal.
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.”
Guzman, 27, left behind a wife and a two-week old baby boy.
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