Congressional leaders Friday called for a federal probe into a major ATF blunder in Milwaukee that has placed the beleaguered agency under the gun yet again in the wake of its gargantuan Fast and Furious scandal.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley joined with Congressmen Darrell Issa, Robert Goodlatte, and Jim Sensenbrenner in writing an official letter to ATF Acting Director B. Todd Jones asking that he conduct an investigation into a botched sting operation that left an innocent citizen holding the bag with $15,000 in damages to his business, which the ATF refuses to pay.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Tuesday that business owner David Salkin unknowingly rented a building he owns to undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The agents never informed Salkin of their true identity or that the rental was to be part of a sting operation.
The undercover agents opened a business in the building called Fearless Distributing, which supposedly would sell athletic shoes, designer clothes, jewelry, and drug paraphernalia. The agents hoped to nab major drug gangs and illegal dealers with the merchandise. Agents also put the word out on the streets that the store was willing to buy guns and drugs.
But no high level arrests were made, although some 36 low level street thugs were charged with various crimes.
Instead, the sting resulted in a machine gun being lost on the streets of Milwaukee, guns and ammunition being stolen from an ATF SUV, and a burglary during which $35,000 in merchandise was stolen from the store.
After the operation was brought to a halt and the building was being cleared out, ATF agents and members of the Milwaukee police department also inadvertently left behind in the empty store a list containing the names, vehicles, and phone numbers of all of the undercover agents involved in the sting.
The ATF is further embroiled in a controversy over the damage done during the sting to the building it rented from David Salkin. The operation resulted in holes in the walls, broken doors, damage to toilets, and unpaid utility bills that it was the ATF's responsibility to pay. Salkin says the agency owes him at least $15,000 in damages. But the ATF refuses to pay.
Another major sticking point in the operation is that the ATF apparently botched many of the arrests it made of the 36 suspects it nabbed during the sting. It turned out that some of those arrested were the wrong people who had committed no crimes.
Information has also been released showing that ATF agents paid street gangs for guns at double the rate of their normal value on the street, all at taxpayers' expense. And residents in the area charge that the ATF reintroduced high crime into their neighborhood.
Sen. Grassley stated that operation reads more like an episode from the Keystone Cops than an agency of the federal government.
The ineptitude of the ATF is of heightened concern among many in Congress in light of the current raging debate over gun control. If Obama's plans for gun bans, gun control, and universal registration are approved, the ATF would have a much expanded role in regulating the sale, purchase, and flow of firearms and ammunition.
Some members of Congress express doubt that the agency could handle the added responsibilities, given its tendency to engage in operations that are either illegal or inept.
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