A "House of Death" Lawsuit is No Mas

Categories: Cover Story
The House of Death -- has to be one hell of a neighborhood, no?

OK, so we’re a little late on this, but late last month a U.S. district judge in El Paso issued a ruling on what is known as the House of Death case, which we wrote about earlier this year. For those unfamiliar with the case: Twelve men were kidnapped and taken to a house in Juarez, Mexico, where they were tortured, killed and buried by members of the Vicente Carillo Fuentes criminal organization, commonly known as the Juarez cartel.

The first of these murders was witnessed by a high-ranking member of the cartel who also happened to be an informant for the U.S. government. When the murder was over, and after the informant had helped bury the body, he made his way to El Paso, where he told his handlers at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement what he had seen. According to his testimony, they also listened to a recording of the murder.

At this point, they had enough evidence to take down their target, but instead they sent the informant back to Mexico, where he would facilitate other murders. Only when two DEA agents were nearly kidnapped, taken to the house and killed did the investigation finally come to an end, culminating in the arrest of Santillan Tabares, a senior member of the Juarez cartel.

Dallas lawyer Raul Loya filed a lawsuit in behalf of several of the victims, including an El Paso diesel mechanic named Luis Padilla.

But on August 20, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo dismissed the lawsuit. Montalvo sided with the government’s claims that they had no prior knowledge of any of the murders that occurred at the house, that they had no judicial authority over murders occurring in Mexico, and that there was no causal link between the defendant’s actions and the murders.

What the government doesn’t dispute is that ICE knew about the first murder, nor do they dispute that ICE continued to use the informant even after he was arrested trying to run a load of marijuana behind their backs into New Mexico.

That the lawsuit was dismissed isn’t much of a surprise. The real story is what’s happening to the informant in the case, who remains in U.S. custody in an undisclosed prison.

If the government’s version of events is to believed, the informant did nothing wrong, nor did his handlers. The people who died at the House of Death, drug smugglers and criminals themselves, would have died anyway, whether the informant knew of their murders or not. As the ruling states, the U.S. government “didn’t owe any of the alleged victims a duty of care” nor do they have jurisdiction over murders that occur in Mexico. In the end, the case was made -- a top lieutenant in the Juarez cartel was taken down -- and the VCF organization took a serious blow.

And yet instead of protecting this informant, who risked his life to provide the U.S. government information that resulted in key arrests and large seizures of narcotics, the informant is now fighting extradition back to Mexico, where he will most certainly be killed.

For those interested, the NarcoSphere, which more or less broke this story, has a nice post on the ruling and new information on a leaked letter relating to the case. --Jesse Hyde

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