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House Oversight issues subpoenas over bizarre ATF sting operation

House Oversight issues subpoenas over bizarre ATF sting operation

No, not that bizarre ATF sting operation.  This one’s not fast and furious; it’s more like “slow and curious.”  It’s the one where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Squid Tattoos was using mentally disabled people to run phony gun stores.  I’m a big law-and-order guy myself, a staunch supporter of police officers at every level, but something just ain’t right over at the ATF.

The formal name of this program was “Operation Fearless,” which demonstrates a dismaying lack of creativity, but that’s not why House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has issued subpoenas.  He wants to know more about allegations that facilities used in the operation were abused, merchandise was stolen (including firearms!), mentally handicapped people were involved… and, as Fox News reports, “one operation was located across the street from a middle school.”

Issa, R-Calif., claimed this week that the ATF has stonewalled him by withholding documents and shown a “complete lack of cooperation.”

“I have no choice today but to issue the enclosed subpoena,” he wrote to ATF Director B. Todd Jones. “… The time for hollow promises is over.”

Stonewalling?  That is so unlike the normal behavior of federal agencies under the Most Transparent Administration In History.

One of the reasons House Oversight is miffed at the ATF is that the agency didn’t see fit to mention problems at a number of similar sting operations in other cities – ranging from Portland, Oregon to Pensacola Florida –  while an inquiry into the marquee disaster in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was under way.  As Issa pointed out to ATF director Todd Jones in a January letter, these sting operations were supposed to enjoy enhanced managerial oversight in the wake of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, but it took a long time for allegations of abuse in storefront sting operations beyond Milwaukee to come to House Oversight’s attention.

A great deal of money was spent under dubious circumstances in these operations, and the quest to trick criminals into selling their guns might have created quite a bit of peripheral crime, as Issa outlined in his letter:

According to the Journal Sentinel, in Milwaukee, ATF agents paid $1,250 for a gun that usually sells for $400 to $700 and $2000 for a rifle that a suspect purchased hours before at Gander Moutnain, a firearms retailer, for $700.

In other cities where ATF storefronts posed as pawnships, it seems that in an effort to maintain appearances, ATF would purchase almost anything brought through the doors, effectively boosting the market for stolen goods.  In Phoenix, federal prosecutors charged James Arthur Lewis with selling 11 firearms to undercover agents and officers.  The investigation found that Lewis obtained most of the firearms through residential burglaries he committed in 2010.

In Pensacola, Roderick Jones committed seven burglaries in six weeks, stealing, among other things, generators air compressors, and oxygen tanks that he sold to undercover ATF agents.

Alarmingly, an agent iin one instance allegedly used his training to give instruction to a suspect on “field test[ing]” automatic weapons.  In another, an agent allegedly instructed an individual on the best practice to modify a weapon.

In his new letter to Jones announcing the subpoena, Issa proclaims his “disappointment with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ complete lack of cooperation” with his committee’s investigation, which has been in progress for over a year.  He notes that despite receiving assurances of cooperation, Jones and his staff have not responded to letters from several House and Senate committees pertaining to the storefront sting operations, or produced any of the requested documents.  The subpoena sets a tight March 31 deadline for compliance.

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