A watchdog for the Department of Justice has found "serious failures" with how the department handled the investigation of a man who was suspected of moving grenade components from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels.
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General compared the department's failures to the botched Fast and Furious investigation, in which department officials tried to track guns being shipped to Mexican drug cartels, but then lost track of those guns. One of the lost guns later ended up at the murder scene of a U.S. border official.
A new report says the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, didn't do enough to arrest a known violator of laws banning the export of weapons and parts to Mexico. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The OIG said Justice followed the same failed pattern in a case involving Jean Baptiste Kingery. Officials first suspected Kingery of sending grenade parts to Mexico in late 2009.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives intercepted two shipments of parts that were sent to Kingery, and marked those parts in a way that would let them identify the parts later, after they had been shipped to Mexico.
But the OIG said the ATF was unable to track the parts, and grenades with parts marked by the ATF were later found at crime scenes in Mexico.
"ATF agents then attempted to conduct surveillance of Kingery to determine if he was taking the grenade components into Mexico," the OIG explained. "ATF agents also attempted to work with Mexican law enforcement officials to follow or arrest Kingery. Neither effort was successful."
"Months later, ATF learned that two live grenades recovered at a crime scene in Mexico contained component parts that bore markings of the type ATF used on the components delivered to Kingery," it said.
The OIG also said Kingery was stopped by border officials in 2010 when he tried to cross into Mexico. But while grenade components were found in Kingery's car, an assistant U.S. Attorney decided against arresting him, and Kingery was allowed to leave if he voluntarily returned the next day for more interviews.
Kingery returned the next day, and was again allowed to leave without being charged with a crime, "with the understanding that he would be cooperating with law enforcement." But instead of cooperating, Kingery fled.
"[A]pproximately one week later, after ATF agents lost contact with Kingery, he was stopped trying to re-enter the United States," OIG said. The same assistant U.S. Attorney again allowed Kingery to leave, and Kingery returned to Mexico without facing any charges.
In the end, it took Mexican officials to arrest Kingery in 2011.
"The OIG found that the investigation of Kingery was seriously flawed in several respects and that Kingery should have been arrested and charged with violating the Arms Export Control Act by criminal complaint or indictment long before he finally was charged," the OIG said. "We also determined that, as in Operation Fast and Furious, this failure to act reflected inadequate consideration by the agents and prosecutors of the risk to public safety in the United States and Mexico created by Kingery's illegal activities."
The OIG said its investigation showed the failure of adequate coordination between the ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"The OIG concluded that these failures to coordinate predictably produced poorly conceived and executed operations," it said.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Thursday that the report reveals systemic failures at the Department of Justice that put lives at risk in both the U.S. and Mexico.
"The IG report makes clear that an assistant U.S. attorney refused to prosecute a known arms trafficker for 'unpersuasive' reasons," they said. "The Kingery case is a microcosm of problems at the Justice Department."
"It's another example of agents being hung out to dry by the Justice Department and a dysfunctional U.S. attorney's office," they said. "It's long past time for accountability at the Department of Justice."