Wisconsin (The Gaslamp Post) – Congress is now demanding answers after a story surfaced the day before yesterday, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reportedly botched another gun operation. Unlike Operation Gunrunner, the undercover operation which inadvertently sent thousands of firearms over the border into Mexico, this one was focused in of all places; Wisconsin.
Among those delivering sharp rebukes were lawmakers who led the congressional probe into ATF’s flawed Fast and Furious operation in Arizona, where agents encouraged the sale of more than 2,000 firearms by gun stores to traffickers but lost track of the weapons. Many ended up at crime scenes in Mexico.
“The Journal Sentinel story reads more like an accounting of the Keystone Cops instead of a federal law enforcement agency,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “I’ll be asking the ATF questions because if the operation was handled as badly as it was reported, it puts yet another major stain on the agency.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the ATF had set up a sting operation in a bogus storefront with the express intent of catching drug dealers and illegal street guns. The understanding was that they would be tracing the illegal guns sold to them in hopes of finding out where they came from and ultimately getting them off the street.
Unfortunately not a single major drug dealer or gangland gun operation has been taken down throughout the entire 10-month long investigation. Apparently the only ones stung in the sting, were the Feds.
The storefront was reportedly a rental space owned by a Milwaukee area man who was described as a first-time landlord. ATF agents used it to set up a store complete with hidden cameras and a secret central command area in the back.
The agents, wearing shirts that said “Brew City Hustle,” carved out a part of the warehouse for a showroom of jeans, coats, shoes and purses along with bongs and fake urine, for those trying to beat a drug test. They also set up an office with a cash-counting machine.
They installed secret cameras and a command center where the sting would be run.
The operation created a Facebook page and chose a striking logo – a skull with a slew of guns and knives fanned out behind – ripped off from a recent Sylvester Stallone movie, “The Expendables.” The store didn’t say it was in the gun business but the logo suggested that.
Agents “let it be known” they were willing to buy guns and drugs, according to documents from the circuit court charges. The records don’t say how they did that, but agents had business cards with the Fearless logo and the words “Buy, sell, or trade.” The cards were found by the landlord after agents left.
Soon the drugs and guns began flowing in. Drugs ranging from cocaine to heroin were coming into the store in varying amounts. The ATF reported that guns were also coming into the store. In all some 145 firearms were seized by agents, with as many as 18 being either stolen or missing their serial numbers.
Agents then discovered that they were paying for legally obtained firearms from straw purchasers, who were buying handguns at legitimate businesses and in turn selling them to the store for as much as $800 over retail price in some cases. This leads some to wonder if this were a crime only possible because the ATF was there to facilitate it.
That smooth sailing soon became rocky road, when in September of last year a Ford Explorer belonging to an agent was broken into and an ATF issued M-4 “assault rifle”, along with 2 handguns, ammunition, and a law enforcement radio were taken. A month later, the storefront was burglarized and the entire ATF command center was wiped out.
Turns out, the ATF has weapons stolen or loses them more frequently than the public might think, according to a 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a five-year span from 2002-’07, for example, 76 ATF weapons were stolen, lost or missing, according to the report. That’s nearly double the number compared with the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, when considering rates per 1,000 agents.
Todd Roehl, a resident for five years, wonders if the ATF operation explains two unusual crimes in the neighborhood. Over the summer, the wheels were stolen off his wife’s SUV, which was left up on rocks. A couple of months later, thieves attempted to break in to his shed. The ATF operation was buying stolen goods, but he is unsure if his wife’s wheels ended up there.
The sting operation was reportedly closed down and agents began removing what was left behind after the thieves. They reportedly left behind files containing undercover agent’s names, phone numbers, info on the vehicles they drive, etc.
And the store front was also reported to have been left a shambles by the ATF. The owner of the store front says that the ATF owes him at least $15,000 in utility bills, rent, damage to the space from their operation, as well as damage from an overflowing toilet.
The owner, Mr. David Salkin has tried to recover losses from the ATF but has received nothing but threats.
The ATF has balked, saying there was less than $3,200 in damage and telling Salkin to return the security deposit. They told him to file a claim with the federal government and warned him to stop contacting them.
In an email to Salkin, ATF attorney Patricia Cangemi wrote, “If you continue to contact the Agents after being so advised your contacts may be construed as harassment under the law. Threats or harassment of a Federal Agent is of grave concern. Utilizing the telephone or a computer to perpetrate threats or harassment is also a serious matter.”
Representatives in the nation’s capital are not pleased with hearing this news and are blasting the incompetence and abuse in this instance.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, said he would be investigating the matter.
“News of the botched ATF Milwaukee operation is extremely concerning,” he said. “The Obama Administration wants to pass new gun laws and give new responsibilities to the ATF, but the agency has been inept at enforcing the laws that we already have.
“I will be investigating the ATF’s actions and mistakes because this type of mismanagement is not acceptable. Wisconsinites deserve answers, and I am not going to wait until we have another Fast and Furious-like situation to find them,” Sensenbrenner said.