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ATF launches investigation into Milwaukee sting

  • Associated Press
  • February 2, 2013 - 2:02 PM

MILWAUKEE - The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has launched an internal investigation into a Milwaukee storefront sting operation marred by missteps, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The investigation follows a report by the newspaper this week that a 10-month ATF storefront operation intended to bust felons for drug and gun offenses was flawed. Burglars stole $35,000 in merchandise and an agent's machine gun from the sting operation and a document listing undercover agents was also left behind, according to the Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/UMYRtS). The newspaper looked through police reports, court documents, social media and materials the ATF left behind at the store.

ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun said the agency is reviewing the operation. She said the ATF uses storefront operations as a tool "to keep firearms and narcotics out of the hands of criminals."

In the Milwaukee operation, 145 guns were purchased from 22 people and charges were filed against 36 people, Colbrun said. But the Journal Sentinel's review of court records found 30 defendants after three cases were dismissed.

The agency has been on the defensive in recent years following its bungled gun-tracking program known as Operation Fast and Furious. In the Arizona gun-smuggling sting operation, agents lost track of some 1,400 guns, many of which were recovered at Mexican crime scenes.

The same House committee that investigated Fast and Furious said it would look into the Milwaukee operation.

In a letter Thursday to ATF acting director B. Todd Jones, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested key documents and investigative reports related to Fearless Distributing, the fake ATF store that had designer clothes, athletic shoes, jewelry and drug paraphernalia for sale.

They also sought answers to 22 questions, ranging from Jones' knowledge of the operation to details about who authorized various aspects of it.

Besides the burglary and stolen gun, agents left behind an ATF operational plan at the store when they shut it down late last year. The document listed undercover agents' names, vehicle descriptions, cellphone numbers and secret signals used when busting a suspect.

President Barack Obama announced in mid-January that he would nominate Jones, who ran the Minneapolis FBI office from spring 2011 to spring 2012, to lead the ATF, an agency that hasn't had a permanent director for six years.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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