From Fast and Furious to Fearless Distribution, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), is under scrutiny again.
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: Armed ATF agents stage on the 11th Street Bridge adjacent to the Navy Yard complex where a shooting took place early this morning September 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. Early reports indicate that several people may have been shot, and police are still trying to determine the number of suspects involved in the shooting. Win McNamee/Getty Images
The sometimes rogue agency is now facing questions about activities for phony stores for stings – including using brain damaged and mentally ill people to be involved in phony weapons deals.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on seven instances of botched stings across the country, after an investigation in Milwaukee went awry.
The paper reported that that ATF agents in stings across the country befriended mentally disabled people to bring business to their phony store there then arrested them in at least four cities and also opened up undercover gun and drug buying operations in so called safe-zones, such as areas near churches, and allowed juveniles and underage teens to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol.
The ATF, a part of the Justice Department, spent the last several years consumed with questions about Operation Fast and Furious, where about 2,000 guns were allowed to flow to Mexican drug trafficking organizations with the intent of tracking the guns. The operation was halted after a gun was found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
Further, the newspaper reported that these stores priced guns well above market value, leading suspects to buy firearms from other legal dealers and then sell them to the ATF stores for a profit. In some cases, the agents ran fake pawnshops that bought stolen item with no questions asked.
An ATF spokesperson told TheBlaze Monday that a statement addressing the Journal-Sentinel story would be released.
■ The Milwaukee, Wisc. phony store used in the sting was called Fearless Distribution. It opened in early 2012 offering designer clothes, athletic shoes, jewelry and drug paraphernalia. The Journal-Sentinel first reported in January 2013 that the store front had not caught any major criminal and included numerous mistakes. It was closed after burglars stole $35,000 in merchandise from the store. But after agents cleared out, they left behind sensitive documents that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents. The ATF owed the building’s owner $15,000 because of utility bills, holes in the wall, broken doors and plumbing problems.
Undercover ATF agents running the phony store also “used a brain-damaged man with a low IQ to set up gun and drug deals, paying him in cigarettes, merchandise and money,” according to the newspaper. While charges were filed against 30 people as a result of the 10-months the phony store was in operation, each was a low level drug sales or gun possession count. Moreover, agents had the wrong person in three cases.
■ In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as "slow-headed" before using him as a key figure in their sting. The newspaper even said that agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back, providing instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed the ATF agents to charge the man with a more serious crime.
■Undercover agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a "tutorial" on using machine guns, in hopes that he could find them an illegal one on the streets.
■ In Portland, Ore., attorneys for three teens who were charged for offenses in the case said a female ATF agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell. The agents in Portland also convinced a mentally disabled person to get a tattoo on his neck to advertise the store. The property owner in Portland said agents removed a parking lot spotlight, damaging her new $30,000 roof causing leaks.
■ In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had just been stolen, some from police cars.
■ In Pensacola, Fla., the ATF hired a felon to run its pawnshop in order to widen the pool of potential targets and boost arrests. Someone selling guns legally could be charged if they knowingly sell to a felon. The ATF's pawnshop partner was eventually convicted of pointing a loaded gun at someone and was sentenced to six months in jail,
The newspaper said that the ATF did not provide information for the story, and that it obtained the information through court records and various interviews with attorneys.
Before the story ran, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun told the newspaper in an e-mail:
"Long-term undercover investigations are one of many tools used by ATF in locations that have high levels of violence occurring in the demographics and a mechanism is needed to rid the area of a large volume of individuals (as) opposed to a handful of individuals."