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Justice Dept. IG launches ATF storefront sting ‘review’

ATF Director B. Todd Jones may have to tighten the reins even further on his agency field operations.
ATF Director B. Todd Jones may have to tighten the reins even further on his agency field operations.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced yesterday that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) will "review" controversial storefront “sting” operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in four cities, not to include a case in Gresham, Ore., that was detailed last month by the Portland Oregonian.

Whether the “review” will result in operational changes or more serious actions such as discipline or even dismissals remains to be seen. Horowitz' statement carefully avoids using the term "investigation" although newspapers that have covered the questionable operations did use the term.

The ATF storefront sting operation in Milwaukee, which will be part of the review was revealed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Horowitz said in a prepared statement that the "review" will look at three other cities, Pensacola, St. Louis and Wichita. These operations were either continued or began after the inception of the Monitored Case Program that was established in July 2011 after the Fast and Furious scandal broke, thanks largely to the work of National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea and independent blogger Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars. This column also extensively covered the unfolding scandal.

ATF came under much criticism and scrutiny from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa. That committee held several hearings on Fast and Furious, during which one agent said under oath that the gunrunning operation was “the perfect storm of idiocy.”

The Journal Sentinel’s investigation revealed that the ATF “used mentally disabled people to promote operations and then arrested them for their work; opened storefronts close to schools and churches, increasing arrest numbers and penalties; and attracted juveniles with free video games and alcohol.”

The Oregonian noted that the ATF’s Gresham operation “set up a smoke shop…near a middle school, using the store to make underworld buys of drugs and guns.” The newspaper reported yesterday that “Operation Kraken” resulted in 48 guilty pleas to state and federal charges and that ATF collected 80 firearms including ten that had been stolen and “others that had been illegally modified.”

However, public defenders in those cases were harshly critical of the operation, the Oregonian reported. The newspaper quoted defense attorney Andrew Kohlmetz stating, about the defendants, “They are the low hanging fruit. They are people that want to please others. They have disabilities, drug addiction, low mental functioning.”

Federal public defender Steve Wax told the newspaper that while federal agents “may not have engaged in entrapping behavior,” it doesn’t mean society “should be supporting efforts by law enforcement to get people to commit crimes.”

The Journal Sentinel meanwhile quoted U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who had asked for Horowitz to investigate the sting operation in her state after the newspaper expose. She called the operation “totally inexcusable.”

Both the Journal Sentinel and Oregonian investigations make for interesting reading. The revelations suggest that, rather than clean up its act, the ATF perhaps learned nothing from the Fast and Furious debacle and has continued to engage in tactics that open the agency up to even more investigation and criticism.

Read the Journal Sentinel

Read the Oregonian


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