Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are demanding answers after a damning news report this week outlined an almost unthinkable series of errors in a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting operation.
For 10 months, ATF agents in Milwaukee ran a storefront operation meant to bust criminals for gun and drug violations. But the operation inside the phony store "Fearless Distributing" didn't take down any major drug dealers or gang members -- instead, the store was robbed of $35,000 worth of merchandise, an agent's machine gun was stolen, and a document with the names and phone numbers of undercover agents was left behind after the operation was shut down, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
It's the latest embarrassment for the agency still under the cloud of Operation Fast and Furious. On Thursday, some of the top Washington lawmakers investigating that failed operation turned their attention to the ATF's actions in Milwaukee with a letter to ATF Acting Director Todd Jones.
In it, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) laid out the allegations of failure and mismanagement and set a two-week deadline for answers to 22 specific questions.
"If these reports are accurate, your ability to provide this leadership is in serious doubt," the letter stated. "You promised to 'hit the reset button' when you became acting director. Instead, it appears as though you have hit the 'repeat' button, as the Fearless Distributing sting was created and conducted entirely under your stewardship."
According to the Journal Sentinel, the ATF opened the fake store last year and staffed it with undercover agents who, under the guise of selling clothes and shoes, "let it be known" that they were willing to buy guns and drugs -- and at a premium. In one case, an ATF agent paid $1,250 for a handgun with an auction value of just $400 to $700.
In total, the sting resulted in charges filed against just 30 people -- mostly for low-level drug or gun counts -- but agents also got the wrong person in at least three instances, including one who was actually in prison at the time, the newspaper reported.
"I have never heard of those kinds of problems in an operation," retired ATF agent Michael Bouchard told the Journal Sentinel. "Sure, small bits and pieces, but that many in one case? I have never heard of anything like that."
ATF spokesman Special Agent Robert Schmidt did not immediately return a request for comment from TheBlaze, though insisted to the Journal Sentinel that the agency's operation had made the streets of Milwaukee safer.
"Our number one responsibility is denying criminal access to firearms and that is what we are trying to do," Schmidt said. "It is our duty to purchase these firearms to protect the American public and citizens of Milwaukee."
The search continues for the still-missing M-4 .223-caliber fully automatic rifle and another handgun stolen out of an agent's Ford Explorer. A third gun stolen at the same time was recovered -- it was sold back to Fearless Distributing for $1,400. Schmidt told the Journal Sentinel the agency is "actively looking for any missing firearms that might be out there right now."
“The mismanaged operation included numerous careless and costly mistakes,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said in a statement to Fox News. “Along with my colleagues, I am asking the ATF what happened in Milwaukee and who will be held accountable. I want to know how these glaring blunders could happen. How did ATF—for the second time that we know of—put guns in the hands of dangerous criminals?”