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Ex-Attorney General Was Briefed On Juárez Case

El Paso Times, Oct. 5, 2005

by Louie Bilot, El Paso Times

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was briefed on the drug investigation that almost cost the lives of two Drug Enforcement Administration agents and involved an informant tied to the death of at least 12 men in Juárez, a DEA administrator revealed in court recently.

The case involved an Immigration and Customs Enforcement informant known as "Lalo," who oversaw the executions of at least 12 men for the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel.

Internal ICE memos show ICE agents knew of the killings and did nothing to stop them until two DEA agents assigned to Juárez were mistaken for drug dealers and almost killed.

The agents and their families were pulled from Mexico, and ICE contacted Mexican federal police, who raided a safe house in Juárez and found 12 male bodies buried in the back yard.

Ashcroft was told of the "debacle," DEA Administrator Karen Tandy testified in a Miami court recently. Tandy was subpoenaed in a suit by Sandalio Gonzalez, the former DEA special agent in charge in El Paso.

Gonzalez said in an interview Tuesday that it was all the more puzzling that the government never investigated the alleged criminal wrongdoing by agents in the case. "This incident was serious enough to go all the way to the attorney general."

His boss, Tandy, said a review team from ICE and DEA came to El Paso from Washington. The results of that review were never released and no one apparently was disciplined.

Gonzalez and a group called the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition have asked the congressional Committee on Homeland Security to schedule a hearing on the case.

In his ongoing lawsuit, Gonzalez claims he was retaliated against when he sent a letter to ICE and the U.S. Attorney's office, saying both agencies botched the drug investigation.

Tandy's testimony in late August offers a glimpse into the damage the case did to relations between ICE and DEA. Gonzalez's letter, Tandy said, was "like tossing a hand grenade into the middle of a firefight."

An e-mail entered into evidence in the case suggests officials weren't only concerned with repairing interagency cooperation, but also about avoiding negative press coverage.

In the e-mail, Tandy wrote that Gonzalez was "not to speak to the press other than a no comment, that he is to desist writing anything regarding the Juárez matter."

ICE officials continue to decline comment on the case because it is an ongoing litigation.

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