Thursday, July 21, 2011

Operation Fast and Furious XXVII

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Operation Fast and Furious: The Straw Buyers

By William La Jeunesse & Laura Prabucki
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When the Operation Fast and Furious indictment was announced back in January, it was depicted as a big bust. Twenty suspects were charged with numerous counts of conspiracy, money laundering, gun running and drug trafficking. The defendants faced 5 to 20 years on a single count.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives(ATF) along with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix claimed to have dismantled a major weapons trafficking organization from top to bottom- from the end user of the weapons in Mexico to the money men, those who smuggled and transported the weapons from the U.S. into Mexico, and the buyers on our side of the border.

Yet after thousands of man hours and millions of dollars spent, only one of the 20 suspects remains behind bars. Most were released within 24 hours of their arrest. In the end, all prosecutors got was one middle man and a handful of straw buyers.
Fox News paid a visit to some of the straw buyers in the Phoenix Metro area last week. What we found were young men, many living with their parents, who were apparently just looking to make some quick money.
"A straw buyer is usually a kid who is 18-25, who needs a couple hundred extra bucks and knows somebody who knows somebody that has a way to make a couple extra bucks," said Adrian Fontes, an attorney for the accused ringleader of this Operation. His client, Manuel Celis- Acosta is the only one still in jail.
"The government wants a dramatic indictment, they want the conspiracy to sound like it's run out by highly sophisticated individuals who are involved with a particularly nefarious organization when the reality is it's just a bunch of kids," said Fontes.
Those "kids" purchased more than 1800 guns from stores in and around Phoenix. The straw buyers reportedly received about $100 per transaction. The gun stores say they were assured by the ATF and U.S. attorneys that the weapons would be tracked. Instead, agents say the weapons were allowed to "walk", they were not followed and many ended up in Mexico. Along with crime scenes south of the border, two were also found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Former U.S. Attorney Melvin McDonald says the defendants' release suggests that Operation Fast and Furious is not only a scandal, it was a failure.
" It's pretty scary," says McDonald. " You'd think a lot of people probably would not get out , they'd be detained because of the risk."
The parents of some of the straw buyers claim their sons just got caught up with the wrong crowd.
The mother of 18-year old Dejan Hercegovac, who bought more than 30 guns, said, "He didn't know anything.. he was just a kid."
The father of Erick Avila- Davila, a 25-year old who bought 12 guns, said he didn't know what his son was up to and only found out when he was arrested.
" When I ask him what he did, he just told me 'I'm sorry dad'."


Column: ATF’s Melson May Have a Second Wind; Should FBI Have Used Violent Gun Smuggler as Informant?

By Allan Lengel
With the storm surrounding ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious getting more intense by the day, I thought it was time to step back and make some observations.
One: Acting ATF Director Ken Melson, who seemed like a dead man walking earlier this monthafter word got out that he was going to be forced to resign —  may have a little life left in him.  There’s a good chance he’ll be sticking around at least a little while longer.
After all, how bad would it look for the Justice Department to give him the boot at a time he’s expressing concern that the Justice Department is trying to  hush him up and keep him from telling the truth about the faulty operation  that encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.
He won’t survive this in the long run, particularly after some report — perhaps the Office of Inspector General — recommends an across-the-board change at the top at ATF. But he may stir up more mud  and try to salvage his reputation.
In the mean time, his statements on the matter, which have been released by bomb-throwers, Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, have made him look far better than the Justice Department. The Justice Department isn’t looking so good. And the Justice Department can’t paint Melson as some cowboy or  rogue ATF agent. He was one of them. He came from the Justice Department. Now Melson thinks Atty. Gen. Eric Holder’s Justice Department sucks — or at minimum, can’t be trusted.
And then there’s the FBI informant ATF said it knew nothing about. Look for that to become a bigger deal and possibly create a little public relations headache for the FBI.
If you haven’t been following that closely: ATF was looking at some guy, who had a reputation as a violent gun dealer for the Mexican Cartels — only to find out that the FBI was using this guy as an informant. So of course, ATF had to back off.
Shades of Whitey Bulger? Well, in some ways no. There’s certainly no indication of any crooked FBI agents involved.
On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, the FBI needs to  draw the line with some informants  (like Bulger) when it appears their crimes out weigh the benefits of getting the information.
In this case, you do the math.  A violent gun smuggler for the the very very violent Mexican cartels. He should  have been behind bars, then coughed up information to get a better deal at sentencing. You shouldn’t let guys like that run their game and live the good  life.  Sure there’s arguments to made that it’s worth dealing with the devil to bring down multiple devils. But sometimes it just ain’t worth it — when death is part of the equation.
Then there’s the issue of doing the right thing. The FBI was dealing with a major gun runner. It should have given ATF a heads up that it was working the guy. It didn’t. Now, with this mess, who knows. The informant may end up dead as a result of this all coming to the surface.
In any event,  this whole mess can’t be good for anybody and it certainly can’t help the already strained the relationship beween the FBI and ATF.
And unfortunately, this whole Fast and Furious mess is only going to get messier.
Stay tuned.
Hmmmm... Maybe from the Houston Office?
STARR COUNTY - The ATF will be examining the serial numbers on a load of assault rifles discovered near the Rio Grande in Starr County.

Border Patrol agents working near Fronton discovered a large duffel bag hidden in some brush. Inside the bag, agents found six assault rifles, 26 magazines and 360 rounds of ammunition.

The agents turned everything over to the ATF. The ATF will now look for serial numbers on the weapons to try and track where they came from.

Authorities have not made any arrests.

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