Alleged Drug lords targeted by Fast and Furious were FBI informants

March 23, 2012

Los Angeles Times on March 21, 2012 released the following:

“Federal agents released alleged gun trafficker Manuel Fabian Celis-Acosta to help them find two Mexican drug lords. But the two were secret FBI informants, emails show.

By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington— When the ATF made alleged gun trafficker Manuel Fabian Celis-Acosta its primary target in the ill-fated Fast and Furious investigation, it hoped he would lead the agency to two associates who were Mexican drug cartel members. The ATF even questioned and released him knowing that he was wanted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But those two drug lords were secretly serving as informants for the FBI along the Southwest border, newly obtained internal emails show. Had Celis-Acosta simply been held when he was arrested by theBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in May 2010, the investigation that led to the loss of hundreds of illegal guns and may have contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent could have been closed early.

Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau show that as far back as December 2009 — five months before Celis-Acosta was detained and released at the border in a car carrying 74 live rounds of ammunition — ATF and DEA agents learned by chance that they were separately investigating the same man in the Arizona and Mexico border region.

ATF agents had placed a secret pole camera outside his Phoenix home to track his movements, and separately the DEA was operating a “wire room” to monitor live wiretap intercepts to follow him.

In May 2010, Celis-Acosta was briefly detained at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., and then released by Hope MacAllister, the chief ATF investigator on Fast and Furious, after he promised to cooperate with her.

The ATF had hoped he would lead them to two Mexican cartel members. But records show that after Celis-Acosta finally was arrested in February 2011, the ATF learned to its surprise that the two cartel members were secret FBI informants.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) are investigating Fast and Furious, which allowed illegal gun purchases in Arizona in hopes of tracking the weapons to Mexican drug cartel leaders. In a confidential memo to Republican committee members, Issa and Grassley said the ATF should have known the cartel members were informants and immediately shut down Fast and Furious.

“This means the entire goal of Fast and Furious — to target these two individuals and bring them to justice — was a failure,” they wrote. The “lack of follow-through” by the various agencies, they said, typified “the serious management failures that occurred throughout all levels during Fast and Furious.”

James Needles, a top ATF official in Arizona, told congressional investigators last year that it was very frustrating and a “major disappointment” to learn too late about the informants.

ATF officials declined to comment about the investigations because they are continuing.

But Adrian P. Fontes, a Phoenix attorney representing Celis-Acosta, who has pleaded not guilty, said he was concerned the federal agencies purposely did not share information.

“When one hand is not talking to the other, perhaps somebody is hiding something,” he said. “Was this intentional?”

Emails and other records show that once the ATF and DEA realized they were both investigating Celis-Acosta, officials from both agencies met in December 2009 at the DEA field office in Phoenix.

It is unclear, however, whether MacAllister later told the DEA that she released Celis-Acosta in May 2010 and that he was headed into Mexico.

Her boss, David J. Voth, the ATF’s group supervisor for Fast and Furious, told committee investigators that the ATF realized the Sinaloa cartel members were “national security assets,” or FBI informants, only after Celis-Acosta was rearrested. He identified the informants as two brothers, and said, “We first learned when we went back and sorted out the facts.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Federal prosecutor to take 5th Amendment in Fast and Furious probe

January 20, 2012

Politico on January 20, 2012 released the following:

“By JOSH GERSTEIN

A senior federal prosecutor in Arizona intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights rather than testify before a House committee next week looking into the Justice Department’s handling of the Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation, the prosecutor’s attorney told Congress in a letter on Thursday.

On Wednesday, House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa issued a subpoena to Patrick Cunningham, the chief of the criminal section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. The deposition subpoena came after a plan to have Cunningham appear for a less formal interview fell apart.

Sources say Cunningham is concerned that he’s caught in a pincer of sorts between senior Justice Department officials in Washington eager to shift blame to lower-ranking staffers and Congressional investigators eager to see heads roll over the investigation, which allegedly allowed more than 1000 weapons to cross the border into Mexico despite suspicions they were destined for drug cartels.

“Department of Justice officials have reported to the Committee that my client relayed inaccurate information to the Department upon which it relied in preparing its initial response to Congress. If, as you claim, Department officials have blamed my client, they have blamed him unfairly,” Cunningham’s personal attorney, Tobin Romero of Williams & Connolly, wrote to Issa.

“As a professional courtesy and to avoid needless preparation by the committee and its staff for a deposition next week, I am writing to advise you that my client is going to assert his constitutional privilege not to be compelled to be a witness against himself,” Romero wrote. “My client is, in fact, innocent, but he has been ensnared by the unfortunate circumstances in which he now stands between two branches of government. I will therefore be instructing him to assert his constitutional privilege.”

Issa said Friday that the Fifth Amendment claim signals serious wrongdoing at the Justice Department.

“The assertion of the fifth amendment by a senior Justice official is a significant indictment of the Department’s integrity in Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said in a statement. “This is the first time anyone has asserted their fifth amendment right in this investigation and heightens concerns that the Justice Department’s motivation for refusing to hand over subpoenaed materials is a desire to shield responsible officials from criminal charges and other embarrassment.”

In his letter [], Romero indicates that Cunningham passed on accurate information about the investigation to his supervisor, presumably U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke who resigned last August amidst the furor over the operation. Romero says the answers to be delivered to Congress were vetted with others in Cunningham’s office but not included in DOJ’s February letter to Congress, which DOJ formally withdrew late last year because of inaccurate information it contained about so-called “gunwalking,” a technique under which law enforcement relinquishes control of weapons or fails to prevent them from falling into criminal hands.”

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


U.S. Agents Launder Mexican Profits of Drug Cartels

December 5, 2011
Drug Cartels
Josue Gonzalez/Reuters
“A crime scene in Monterrey, Mexico, last week. Drug-related violence has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people since late 2006, Mexican officials say.”

The New York Times on December 3, 2011 released the following:

“By GINGER THOMPSON

WASHINGTON — Undercover American narcotics agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds as part of Washington’s expanding role in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials.

The agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.

They said agents had deposited the drug proceeds in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents.

The officials said that while the D.E.A. conducted such operations in other countries, it began doing so in Mexico only in the past few years. The high-risk activities raise delicate questions about the agency’s effectiveness in bringing down drug kingpins, underscore diplomatic concerns about Mexican sovereignty, and blur the line between surveillance and facilitating crime. As it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests.

Agency officials declined to publicly discuss details of their work, citing concerns about compromising their investigations. But Michael S. Vigil, a former senior agency official who is currently working for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel, said, “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”

Another former agency official, who asked not to be identified speaking publicly about delicate operations, said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”

Those are precisely the kinds of concerns members of Congress have raised about a gun-smuggling operation known as Fast and Furious, in which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed people suspected of being low-level smugglers to buy and transport guns across the border in the hope that they would lead to higher-level operatives working for Mexican cartels. After the agency lost track of hundreds of weapons, some later turned up in Mexico; two were found on the United States side of the border where an American Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

Former D.E.A. officials rejected comparisons between letting guns and money walk away. Money, they said, poses far less of a threat to public safety. And unlike guns, it can lead more directly to the top ranks of criminal organizations.

“These are not the people whose faces are known on the street,” said Robert Mazur, a former D.E.A. agent and the author of a book about his years as an undercover agent inside the Medellín cartel in Colombia. “They are super-insulated. And the only way to get to them is to follow their money.”

Another former drug agency official offered this explanation for the laundering operations: “Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel’s command and control, is a very time consuming process. These people aren’t running a drugstore in downtown L.A. that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can’t even go into.”

The laundering operations that the United States conducts elsewhere — about 50 so-called Attorney General Exempt Operations are under way around the world — had been forbidden in Mexico after American customs agents conducted a cross-border sting without notifying Mexican authorities in 1998, which was how most American undercover work was conducted there up to that point.

But that changed in recent years after President Felipe Calderón declared war against the country’s drug cartels and enlisted the United States to play a leading role in fighting them because of concerns that his security forces had little experience and long histories of corruption.

Today, in operations supervised by the Justice Department and orchestrated to get around sovereignty restrictions, the United States is running numerous undercover laundering investigations against Mexico’s most powerful cartels. One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”

“If you’re going to get into the business of laundering money,” the official added, “then you have to be able to launder money.”

Former counternarcotics officials, who also would speak only on the condition of anonymity about clandestine operations, offered a clearer glimpse of their scale and how they worked. In some cases, the officials said, Mexican agents, posing as smugglers and accompanied by American authorities, pick up traffickers’ cash in Mexico. American agents transport the cash on government flights to the United States, where it is deposited into traffickers’ accounts, and then wired to companies that provide goods and services to the cartel.

In other cases, D.E.A. agents, posing as launderers, pick up drug proceeds in the United States, deposit them in banks in this country and then wire them to the traffickers in Mexico.

The former officials said that the drug agency tried to seize as much money as it laundered — partly in the fees the operatives charged traffickers for their services and another part in carefully choreographed arrests at pickup points identified by their undercover operatives.

And the former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions to attract the interest of high-value targets.

“They tell you they’re bringing you $250,000, and they bring you a million,” one former agent said of the traffickers. “What’s the agent supposed to do then, tell them no, he can’t do it? They’ll kill him.”

It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.

Mexico has tightened restrictions on large cash purchases and on bank deposits in dollars in the past five years. But a proposed overhaul of the Mexican attorney general’s office has stalled, its architects said, as have proposed laws that would crack down on money laundered through big corporations and retail chains.

“Mexico still thinks the best way to seize dirty money is to arrest a trafficker, then turn him upside down to see how much change falls out of his pockets,” said Sergio Ferragut, a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and the author of a book on money laundering, which he said was “still a sensitive subject for Mexican authorities.”

Mr. Calderón boasts that his government’s efforts — deploying the military across the country — have fractured many of the country’s powerful cartels and led to the arrests of about two dozen high-level and midlevel traffickers.

But there has been no significant dip in the volume of drugs moving across the country. Reports of human rights violations by police officers and soldiers have soared. And drug-related violence has left more than 40,000 people dead since Mr. Calderón took office in December 2006.

The death toll is greater than in any period since Mexico’s revolution a century ago, and the policy of close cooperation with Washington may not survive.

“We need to concentrate all our efforts on combating violence and crime that affects people, instead of concentrating on the drug issue,” said a former foreign minister, Jorge G. Castañeda, at a conference hosted last month by the Cato Institute in Washington. “It makes absolutely no sense for us to put up 50,000 body bags to stop drugs from entering the United States.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Senate votes to end ‘Fast and Furious’ gun program

October 19, 2011

Associated Press (AP) on October 18, 2011 released the following:

“By ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Tuesday to effectively block the Justice Department from undertaking gun-smuggling probes like the flawed “Operation Fast and Furious” aimed at breaking up networks running guns to Mexican drug cartels but that lost track of hundreds of the weapons, some of which were used to commit crimes in Mexico and the United States.

The 99-0 vote would block the government from transferring guns to drug cartels unless federal agents “continuously monitor or control” the weapons. The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the vote “just the first step towards ensuring that such a foolish operation can never be repeated by our own law enforcement.”

The Justice Department has already stopped the program.

A Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress did not ask the department for its views, said the amendment essentially reflects DOJ policy.

In an interview Tuesday with ABC News, President Barack Obama said “we will find out who and what happened in this situation and make sure it gets corrected.”

The vote came as the Senate debated a $128 billion spending measure that would fund Justice Department operations and those of several other Cabinet agencies for the 2012 budget year already under way.

Operation Fast and Furious was a gun-smuggling investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives aimed at tracking small-time illicit gun buyers up the chain to major traffickers in an effort to take down arms networks. In the process, ATF agents lost track of many of the weapons.

Fast and Furious came to light after two assault rifles purchased by a now-indicted small-time buyer under scrutiny in the operation turned up at a shootout in Arizona where Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed.

The operation has caused something of a firestorm in Washington and is the focus of an investigation by House Republicans, who have questioned whether Attorney General Eric Holder has been candid about all he knows about the botched operation.

Holder already has called a halt to the practice of allowing guns to “walk” in an effort to track them to arms traffickers, saying in a recent letter to lawmakers that “those tactics should never again be adopted in any investigation.”

In the past two weeks, two gun-trafficking investigations from the Bush administration have surfaced using the same controversial tactic for which congressional Republicans have been criticizing the Obama administration on Fast and Furious.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show how in a 2007 investigation in Phoenix, ATF agents – depending on Mexican authorities to follow up – let guns “walk” across the border in an effort to identify higher-ups in gun networks. Separately, it was disclosed that ATF agents carried out an operation in 2006 called Wide Receiver that resulted in hundreds of guns being transferred to suspected arms traffickers.

Fast and Furious was designed to respond to criticism that the agency had focused on small-time gun arrests while major traffickers had eluded prosecution.

As recently as 11 months ago, the Justice Department’s inspector general criticized ATF for focusing “largely on inspections of gun dealers and investigations of straw purchasers, rather than on higher-level traffickers, smugglers and the ultimate recipients of the trafficked guns.”

The IG said some ATF managers discourage agents from conducting complex conspiracy investigations that target high-level traffickers.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Issa to press FBI for “gunwalking” info

October 17, 2011

CBS News on October 17, 2011 released the following:

“By Sharyl Attkisson

(CBS News) WASHINGTON – The head of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, said he plans to send a letter to the FBI this week to ask about apparent discrepancies in the investigation of a murder related to “Fast and Furious,” the government’s controversial “gunwalking” case, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down near the U.S.-Mexico border last December, and at least two assault rifles from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Fast and Furious case were found at the scene.

That focused blame on the controversial ATF operation that monitored suspects who trafficked the weapons instead of arresting them and seizing the guns.

Holder subpoenaed for documents in “Gunwalker”
AG Holder responds to critics on Gunwalker
Leahy plans oversight hearing with Holder

But 10 months after the murder, there are questions about how many weapons the FBI recovered at the scene and other key details.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Issa, R-Calif., told moderator Bob Schieffer there’s reason to ask whether there’s a third, missing weapon.

“When agents who were at Brian Terry’s funeral made statements to his mother indicating that there were three weapons … then you look and say, well was there a third weapon at the scene?” Issa asked. “Were there additional people who escaped with weapons?”

Issa: Holder hiding Fast and Furious facts
Dem: Issa is on “Fast & Furious” witch hunt
Congressional investigators seek DOD records

Also, a ballistics report turned over to Congress mentions just two rifles, saying it “could not be determined” if one of them fired the bullet that killed Terry.

There’s also talk of a third weapon, called an “SKS” rifle, in secret recordings obtained by CBS News. In the following partial transcript of a March 2011 conversation, the lead ATF case agent on Fast and Furious is speaking to a gun dealer who cooperated in selling weapons to suspects.

Gun dealer: “There’s three weapons.”
ATF agent: “There’s three weapons.”
Dealer: “I know that.”
Agent: “And yes, there’s serial numbers for all three.”
Dealer: “That is correct.”
Agent: “Two of them came from the store.”
Dealer: “I understand that.”
Agent: “There’s an SKS that I don’t think came from … Dallas or Texas or something like that.”

The FBI wouldn’t comment but has implied in the past that there was no third gun. Issa said he’s seeking clarity and that, until key questions are answered, it fuels speculation.

The FBI has kept nearly everything about Terry’s murder secret, saying that releasing anything would jeopardize their investigation, now beginning its eleventh month.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


House Republicans to Request Special Counsel to Probe Holder on ‘Fast and Furious’

October 4, 2011

Fox News on October 4, 2011 released the following:

“EXCLUSIVE: House Republicans are going to call for a special counsel to determine whether Attorney General Holder perjured himself during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Operation Fast and Furious, Fox News has learned.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is sending a letter to President Obama arguing that Holder cannot investigate himself and will request a probe by a special counsel.

The question is whether Holder committed perjury during a Judiciary Committee hearing in May. At the time, Holder indicated he was not familiar with with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program known as Fast and Furious.

However, a newly discovered memo dated July 2010 shows Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, told Holder that straw buyers in the Fast and Furious operation “are responsible for the purchase of 1,500 firearms that were then supplied to the Mexican drug trafficking cartels.”

In response to the Monday release of that and other documents, the Justice Department said Holder was confused by the question, and that he was answering about when he first learned of the “troubling tactics” of the program, not the name of it.

But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News on Tuesday morning that Holder saying he didn’t understand the question rather than he didn’t know of the program is not a successful defense to perjury.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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‘Fast & Furious’ cases assigned new prosecutors

September 7, 2011

Politico on September 6, 2011 released the following:

“By Josh Gerstein

The Justice Department is reassigning cases stemming from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ controversial “Fast and Furious” gunrunning probe to prosecutors outside Arizona, a department spokeswoman said Tuesday night.

The cases had been prosecuted by lawyers from the office of Dennis Burke, who resigned last week as United States Attorney for Arizona after acknowledging mistakes “at all levels” of the investigation. A prosecutor directly involved in the cases was also reassigned to civil cases at his request, officials said.

“Out of [an] abundance of caution and in the best interest of these prosecutions, the United States Attorney’s office has asked that these cases be reassigned to prosecutors in offices in Los Angeles and San Diego,” Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. The cases are expected to go forward in the Arizona federal courts with the California-based prosecutors, she said.

The move was well received by Congressional Republicans who have criticized and investigated the “Fast and Furious” probe for allowing weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the decision “clearly in the best interest of achieving just outcomes” and said it “removes the apparent conflict-of-interest that Arizona prosecutors had in bringing cases from an operation they mishandled.”

“This is a step in the right direction and an overdue recognition that the cases could not be handled properly by the same prosecutors who oversaw the dangerous gunwalking strategy in the first place,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa,) an early critic of the operation.

Guns from the operation were found in December at the scene of the shooting death in Arizona of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Both Issa and Grassley noted that Terry’s family criticized Burke’s office for opposing the family’s request to be formally designated as victims in the pending gunrunning prosecution.

The Oversight committee first urged the Justice Department to transfer these cases to an impartial prosecutor in May. This decision is also an important step in respecting the rights of victims of Operation Fast and Furious, including the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who had expressed concern about how the cases were being handled in Arizona.

“Up to this point, the Terry family and others who have been impacted by Fast and Furious have been treated poorly by the department,” Grassley complained.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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2 Resignations over Operation Fast and Furious

August 30, 2011

The Associated Press (AP) on August 30, 2011 released the following:

“By PETE YOST
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. attorney in Arizona resigned Tuesday amid investigations into a flawed law enforcement operation aimed at major gun-trafficking networks on the Southwest border, the Justice Department announced.

The operation, known as Fast and Furious, was designed to track small-time gun buyers at several Phoenix-area gun shops up the chain to make cases against major weapons traffickers. It was a response to longstanding criticism of ATF for concentrating on small-time gun violations and failing to attack the kingpins of weapons trafficking.

A congressional investigation of the program has turned up evidence that ATF lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked to the operation. The Justice Department inspector general also is looking into the operation at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Kenneth Melson will be replaced as ATF’s acting chief by B. Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota.

With Republicans in Congress and the department bickering over the investigation, Melson finally testified recently to Hill investigators in private. He said his department superiors “were doing more damage control than anything” and trying to keep the controversy away from top officials.

Also leaving was Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney in Arizona, whose office was deeply involved in Operation Fast and Furious. Burke will be replaced on an acting basis by his first assistant, Ann Scheel.

In a related change, the line prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix who worked on the Fast and Furious investigation, Emory Hurley, was reassigned from criminal cases to civil case work, according to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the personnel matter.

The moves are the latest and most significant effort by the Justice Department to address the controversy. In earlier personnel changes, three ATF agents were laterally transferred starting in May from operational positions to administrative roles.

Jones will continue to serve as U.S. attorney when he assumes the top ATF spot on Wednesday. In a statement, Holder called Jones “a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position.”

In an interview, Jones said that ATF personnel “have been hugely distracted in some parts of the country with other things” and that he plans to listen to people within the agency, then “we’ll get everybody refocused, to the extent they are not focused.”

Melson will become senior adviser on forensic science in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, a development that brought an objection from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Instead of reassigning those responsible for Operation Fast and Furious, Holder should oust them, said Cornyn.

ATF intelligence analyst Lorren Leadmon testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee last month that of more than 2,000 weapons linked to Fast and Furious, some 1,400 have not been recovered.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chair of the House panel, said in a statement that “the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes.”

Issa said his committee will pursue its investigation to ensure that “blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, whose investigation brought problems with Operation Fast and Furious to light, called for a full accounting from the Justice Department as to “who knew what and when, so we can be sure that this ill-advised strategy never happens again.”

The strategy behind Fast and Furious carried the risk that its tracking dimension would be inadequate and some guns would wind up in the hands of criminals in Mexico or the U.S. and be used at crime scenes – which did happen to some of the guns.

Jones is a former military judge advocate as well as a prosecutor. Holder said, “I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws.”

The attorney general said Melson brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role. Holder also praised Burke for demonstrating “an unwavering commitment” to the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office, starting over a decade ago when he was a line prosecutor. Burke served as chief of staff to former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now U.S. Homeland Security Secretary and he was a top aide to Napolitano when she was Arizona attorney general.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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ATF Director to Resign, Agency Sources Say

June 21, 2011
Kenneth E. Melson, ATF Director
Kenneth E. Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2009. (Eric Gay / Associated Press / August 13, 2009)

Los Angeles Times on June 21, 2011 released the story:

Kenneth E. Melson’s exit would be the biggest response yet to the uproar over an operation that allowed the sale of weapons to suspected agents of Mexican drug cartels.

By Richard A. Serrano and Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

The acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to step down because of a controversial gun-running investigation that allowed weapons to be sold to suspected agents of Mexican drug cartels, according to two sources inside the agency.

Kenneth E. Melson’s resignation, which could happen as early as this week, is the most significant repercussion yet from a growing public outcry over the code-named Fast and Furious operation, under which ATF agents watched while straw purchasers acquired more than 1,700 AK-47s and other high-powered rifles from Arizona gun dealers and delivered them to others.

Hundreds of the weapons turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including in southern Arizona last December where a Border Patrol agent was shot to death.

At a House hearing last week, internal government documents showed that Melson was closely involved in overseeing the operation and received weekly briefings. Documents released by Congress showed that he asked for and received log-in information and a link to an Internet feed so that he could watch some of the illegal straw purchases taking place in an Arizona gun store.

Melson became acting director in April 2009 and has remained in place because gun rights groups have held up confirmation of the proposed permanent director, Andrew Traver, head of the ATF’s Chicago field office.

“Traver has been deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities,” the National Rifle Assn. said in January. “This makes him the wrong choice to lead an enforcement agency that has almost exclusive oversight and control over the firearms industry, its retailers and consumers.”

Sources in the agency, who asked not to be identified because the process remained fluid, said Traver could not serve as acting director while his nomination remained under consideration. So it was not clear whether Traver would step in immediately or whether someone else would be named acting director.

“Melson is out,” one source said. “Traver is flying into Washington to meet with the Justice Department,” the ATF’s parent agency. “The administration still favors him because he will do what the Department of Justice instructs him to do.”

But the source said that Traver, although close to Obama through their Chicago connections, did not have “the rank and file” support from agents around the country.

“We need someone permanent in that slot,” the source said. “It’s been five years since we’ve had a permanent director. That’s the rub.”

A second source, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “the feeling on the inside is that Melson is going to resign and that they will have Traver in place in Washington to do a press conference and show there is no gap in the leadership.”

Officially, the ATF declined to address the reports.

“Melson continues to be focused on leading ATF in its efforts to reduce violent crime and to stem the flow of firearms to criminals and criminal organizations,” Scot Thomasson, the agency’s chief spokesman, said Monday. “We are not going to comment on any speculations” about his status as head of the agency.

Melson’s resignation would mark the most significant response yet to the outcry over Fast and Furious. But it would probably fall far short of resolving questions in Congress and among Mexican lawmakers over who authorized the operation.

In interviews with The Times, several disgruntled agents have said they were told the operation had been approved at the highest levels in Washington.

The operation marked a rare instance in which ATF agents allowed guns to “walk” into the hands of criminals, ostensibly with the goal of catching higher-ups in gun-trafficking organizations.

“We want to know what felony stupid bad judgment led to allowing this investigation at the highest levels,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said at last week’s hearing.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Monday that Melson’s departure would not clear up his committee’s questions.

“It would be a shame if the Justice Department makes Mr. Melson the only fall guy for this disastrous strategy — there’s plenty of blame to go around at both the ATF and the Justice Department,” Grassley said in a statement. “A resignation by the acting director would be, by no means, the end of our inquiry. Congressman Issa and I are eager to talk to Mr. Melson and hear his side of the story as soon as possible.”

A clue to where the congressional inquiries are going might lie in a sealed document that was inadvertently released partially because of the investigation. The document makes it clear that at least one wiretap application under Fast and Furious, in March 2010, was signed by Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

Department officials reacted angrily when the document’s heavily redacted cover letter was recently made public, saying it justified their refusal to turn over other sensitive documents.

One ATF source, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly, called Melson a career Justice Department attorney who “got terrible advice from his inner circle. Ken Melson is an attorney. He was not raised as an agent. …If you spend just 10 minutes in our academy for new agents, you know our mission is to deny guns to criminals. And yet they told Melson this was OK.”

Three agents from ATF’s Phoenix office testified before Issa’s committee last week that they had repeatedly objected but were told to back off surveillance once the guns were transferred to third parties.

“Several special agents in the group, including myself, became increasingly concerned and alarmed at [Phoenix management's] refusal to address or stop the suspected straw purchaser from purchasing additional firearms,” Agent Olindo James Casa told the committee.

“On several occasions I personally requested to interdict or seize firearms in such a manner that would only further the investigation,” he said, “but I was always [ordered] to stand down and not to seize the firearms.”

Mexican lawmakers believe that at least 150 Mexicans have been killed or wounded with weapons smuggled in the operation. And the ATF has estimated that at least 372 of the guns have been recovered in Arizona and Texas, mainly at crime scenes.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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