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Gonzalez: Oh, absolutely. I mean, after the first murder, they had all the evidence they needed. At the time that first murder took place, we already had a prosecutable drug case against Santillan. And then we had the murder on top of that.
reason: After all this, the main target of the investigation—Santillan—was only charged with drug trafficking. He pled guilty, and received a 25-year sentence. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton dropped five murder charges against him—all committed at the House of Death. Do you think Sutton was afraid of what would come out in a trial where Lalo and Santillan were called to testify?
Gonzalez: Oh, there’s no question about that. No way they could afford to put Lalo on the stand and have him testify to all of this.
Remember, he had a drug case before the first murder took place. That’s the case that he pled guilty on. The murders had to be dismissed because the government’s star witness and informant, Lalo, would have had to testify that he took part in them. At that point, any defense attorney worth his salt would’ve gotten out of Lalo that he was reporting these murders to federal agents before they happened.
reason: The DEA administrator at the time, Karen Tandy, has admitted in court testimony that she gave you the only poor performance review of your career because of your letter calling for an investigation into the murders. That led to your retirement. Have any of the ICE officers who handled the Lalo case been held accountable—criminally, professionally, or otherwise?
Gonzalez: Not to my knowledge. I doubt it. I would have heard about it.
reason: Have you had any indication that Congress might step in? Have you talked to anyone on Capitol Hill?
Gonzalez: Back in 2005 I went and briefed the senior staff of two senators.
reason: Which ones?
Gonzalez: [Iowa Sen. Charles] Grassley and [Vermont Sen. Patrick] Leahy. I think what happened is one of the members of Leahy’s staff was a Justice Department officer who was on loan on a detail to the senator’s staff. I think she knew Johnny Sutton. She worked out of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. She knew Sutton personally and throughout the whole interview she was antagonistic. My guess is that she railroaded the whole thing.
reason: You eventually won a lawsuit and a settlement from the federal government. What exactly did the jury determine in that case?
Gonzalez: I was suing the government for retaliating against me when I blew the whistle on some missing drugs on another case in Miami. But I amended the lawsuit to include their retaliation for my letter in the House of Death case. This was an ongoing pattern of discrimination and retaliation against whistle-blowing that began in Miami and continued in El Paso. Believe it or not, the government tried to use the letter against me in the case. The jury didn’t buy it.
reason: What were the terms of the settlement?
Gonzalez: The jury ruled in my favor and awarded me $85,000. Both parties appealed, and the government settled for $385,000. But the jury that heard all of the evidence ruled in my favor. Of course, the government didn’t admit to doing anything wrong.
reason: Some of the families of the people murdered at the site brought a class action suit against the federal government for its complicity in their deaths. Do you know the status of that case?