HOUSTON — A federal investigator leading the inquiry into the botched Feb. 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound says tapes of negotiations between Vernon Howell and authorities may have been made illegally.

Even listening to the tapes may be illegal, assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald K. Noble told the Houston Chronicle.

But Noble, who heads the Treasury Department’s inquiry into the attempted raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, declined to discuss what action, if any, the government may take regarding the tapes.

The government’s first priority, he said Tuesday, will be to investigate the source of the recordings, which have been given to Houston attorney Kent Schaffer and the Chronicle.

The recordings were made early in the cult’s 51-day standoff outside Waco. The stalemate ended April 19 when a fire consumed the cult’s home, killing Howell and as many as 96 followers.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.