Outrageous ATF Under Fire for Dangerous Sting Operations Near Schools
Judge Andrew Napolitano weighed in this morning on a new scandal surrounding the ATF. The Justice Department agency, already under fire in recent years over the botched Fast and Furious operation, is now being criticized for its tactics in storefront sting operations, according to a recent investigative report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
See the latest analysis from Judge Nap!
The sting operations involved phony storefronts, including one in Milwaukee, where ATF agents tried to lure criminals with sales of guns and drugs. In some instances, the shops were close to schools and churches, and minors frequented the storefronts, which included pawn shops and tattoo parlors.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
■ ATF agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as "slow-headed" before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a "tutorial" on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.
■ Agents in several cities opened undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.
■ As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars.
■ Agents damaged buildings they rented for their operations, tearing out walls and rewiring electricity — then stuck landlords with the repair bills. A property owner in Portland said agents removed a parking lot spotlight,damaging her new $30,000 roof and causing leaks, before they shut down the operation and disappeared without a way for her to contact them.
■ Agents pressed suspects for specific firearms that could fetch tougher penalties in court. They allowed felons to walk out of the stores armed with guns. In Wichita, agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back — and provided instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed them to charge the man with a more serious crime.
The judge explained that under current federal law these types of sting operations are legal, though he believes the ATF "created a material and substantial danger to thousands of young people in inner cities throughout the United States."
Essentially, he explained that the ATF lured dangerous criminals, including gang members and drug dealers, into school zones in their effort to make arrests.
"They decided to commit crime themselves - luring guns into an area within 1,000 feet of schools, create a crime - have a phony transaction. ... And then as soon as they sold them the gun they arrested these people," said Napolitano, arguing that local authorities should prosecute the ATF agents.
Napolitano believes the undercover efforts, dubbed "Operation Fearless," had to have been approved by Attorney General Eric Holder.
"It's almost inconceivable after Fast and Furious that something of this magnitude could happen without him knowing. In fact, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say he had to approve it. Because it involved too much expenditure of money and too much manpower. They set it up in 40 different cities. You're talking about millions of dollars in movement of material and people," he said.
Watch the full discussion above.
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House lawmakers held a hearing last week on the matter, with an ATF official defending the agency's tactics. Watch William La Jeunesse's report on the story below.