Fast & Furious Florida Style: ATF Implicated in Pensacola Rogue Operation

Over the last several years, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has been plagued by mismanagement, scandal and rogue operations, the most infamous of which has been the ill-fated and deadly “Fast and Furious” debacle.  Despite these ongoing problems and the criticism and calls for reform they have generated, BATFE has continued its practice of questionable tactics and judgment.

In fact, over the course of the last week, numerous media outlets have reported on yet another dubious BATFE operation–this one lowering the bar to a new, disturbing level.

As Fox News reports, BATFE agents in cities across the country used rogue tactics to go after guns on the street by allegedly luring mentally ill individuals to participate in sting operations, then later arresting many of these same individuals.  There are also reports that BATFE agents allowed minors to smoke pot and drink alcohol in connection with these operations.

The allegations against BATFE came about as a result of an in-depth investigation earlier this year by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which exposed an ill-conceived BATFE sting in Milwaukee that included agents hiring a brain-damaged man to promote an undercover storefront and then arresting him for his work.

According to the latest Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the issue, BATFE officials told Congress the failed Milwaukee operation was an isolated case of inadequate supervision.

But apparently it was not.  Instead, it appears that it was part of a pattern of questionable activities in several states.

The Journal Sentinel article reports that among the findings of the investigation were the following revelations:

■ BATFE agents befriended mentally disabled people to stimulate business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, BATFE agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key figure in their sting.  Agents in Albuquerque 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, Ore., 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 that were taken 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, Ore., 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.

■ In Pensacola, BATFE hired a felon to run its pawnshop.  The move widened the pool of potential targets, boosting arrest numbers.  BATFE’s pawnshop partner was later convicted of pointing a loaded gun at someone outside a bar.  Instead of a stiff sentence typically handed down to repeat offenders in federal court, he got six months in jail–and a pat on the back from the prosecutor.

Rest assured, we’ll keep readers apprised of any new developments in the investigation and reporting of these shocking allegations.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on NRA-ILA.