Thursday, January 31, 2013

BATFE Screwed the Pooch in Milwaukee

Another BATFE screw up?

You be the judge.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story today. Fox News followed along with a story of their own. And poorly executed law enforcement work draws Congress in much the same way as other things draw flies.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) created a phony storefront, named it Fearless Distributing, staffed it with undercover agents and created a Facebook page that lured people to the location all under the guise of selling clothes and shoes. The ATF agents handed out business cards with a logo similar to the one from the movie “The Expendables” with the words “buy, sell or trade” on them. Once the store was up and running, agents spread the word that Fearless Distributing was willing to buy guns and drugs.
So far, it looks like a typical 'storefront operation' that the federal government loves to run. It's set to get the dumbest of criminals and they cast a wide net. The funding is budgeted as a "Group One" program.  As usual, results matter and money is secondary -- but does it constitute entrapment? Not in a federal courtroom the way it would usually play out in a state court. The agents in one case paid $1,200 for a firearm that would normally sell for between $400 and $700. 

Keystone Cops?

Not yet. But it's coming...
On Sept. 13, 2012, three weapons – including an M-4 machine gun – were stolen from an agent’s parked car. The very next day one of the weapons -- as well as another unrelated one -- were sold back to agents for $1,400. The M-4 and Smith & Wesson 9mm are still unaccounted for.
Senator Charles Grassley responds:
"The Journal Sentinel story reads more like an accounting of the Keystone Cops instead of a federal law enforcement agency," Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "I'll be asking the ATF questions because if the operation was handled as badly as it was reported, it puts yet another major stain on the agency."
David Salkin unknowingly rented his building at 1220 E. Meinecke Ave. to BATFE, from which they ran their sting operation. Burglars broke into the business, ending the operation. Salkin says BATFE owes him $15,000 for damage and unpaid utility bills. The agency has refused to pay.


Post Mortem

The Group One undercover operation didn't result in arrests or convictions of major dealers and they didn't take down a gang. $35,000 in merchandise was stolen from the undercover store and a military style machine-gun is now on the streets of Milwaukee. BATFE is in embroiled in a civil lawsuit with David Salkin who says that he's owed $15,000 because of utility bills, holes in the walls, broken doors and damage from an overflowing toilet.
When the 10-month operation was shut down after the burglary, agents and Milwaukee police officers who participated in the sting cleared out the store but left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents.
The sting resulted in charges being filed against about 30 people, most for low-level drug sales and gun possession counts. But agents had the wrong person in at least three cases. In one, they charged a man who was in prison - as a result of an earlier ATF case - at the time agents said he was selling drugs to them.
Were the special agents lying, careless or stupid? It looks like Congress will have the last word on that account.
Other cases reveal that the agency's operation was paying such high prices that some defendants bought guns from stores such as Gander Mountain and sold them to the agents for a quick profit. 
Why not? And back to entrapment, were the amounts that the government spent to buy the firearms so great as to entrap? If you can buy them from a store and then sell them to federal agents down the street for double or triple the money, would that lure an financially strapped person to make the deal? Should they go to prison for it?
ATF spokesman Special Agent Robert Schmidt declined to say how much the sting operation cost.
Group One budgets are usually one million dollars. It would be interesting to see how much the budgeted amount that BATFE actually spent.
Milwaukee is among 31 cities where the ATF has dedicated a Violent Crime Impact Team. The teams are supposed to target "hot spots" - small, high-crime areas - and go after the "worst of the worst" violent criminals, according to the agency's Best Practices report
The agency launched the initiative in 2004 and quickly reported "enormous" success. Agency officials touted a drop in firearm-related homicides in pilot cities and credited the $35 million effort with helping local police departments solve other crimes. 
But a U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General's report two years later found no evidence that the teams reduced firearm crimes in the targeted areas. Authors of the report cited "inadequate direction" and "ineffective oversight" by the agency. 
"We found that ATF based its analysis on insufficient data and faulty comparisons," the report stated.
No matter what happens, BATFE or any federal agency will claim success. The US Government has never been long on the truth and there is no reason to see a change of pace here.

Daniel Stiller, head of the federal defender's service in Milwaukee, said such undercover operations are rare. The case involving Gladney and Bryant suggested to him that those defendants weren't major criminals given they got guns from a store, not the street.
"I have to guess a true criminal on the streets of Milwaukee has the ability to obtain a firearm when needed from something other than a store," Stiller said.
I think that most people would agree.
The operation ran into more trouble in October, when burglars broke into the building housing Fearless and cleaned out the ATF operation. 
Late on Oct. 9, burglars made off with jewelry, clothing, auto parts, purses, Nike shoes and more, according to police reports. No one has been charged in the burglary. 
The lease states that the alarm is included in the rent. But shortly after Fearless moved in, Salkin said he told the people running the store he was cutting the phone line, which connected the alarm. He said he assumed they would hook up their own alarm. They did not. 
"You would think the ATF would know that," Salkin said.
We're clearly at the Keystone Cops level at this point in the saga.
Business owner, Salkin, said by going over on the $800 a month utility allotment and damage to walls, doors and carpeting, the ATF owes him about $15,000, which includes a month of lost rent. 
The ATF has balked, saying there was less than $3,200 in damage and telling Salkin to return the security deposit. They told him to file a claim with the federal government and warned him to stop contacting them. 
In an email to Salkin, ATF attorney Patricia Cangemi wrote, "If you continue to contact the Agents after being so advised your contacts may be construed as harassment under the law. Threats or harassment of a Federal Agent is of grave concern. Utilizing the telephone or a computer to perpetrate threats or harassment is also a serious matter."
Wow. One would think that with a million dollar budget, they could afford to clean up after the whole thing went haywire. So much for secrecy.
Turns out, the ATF has weapons stolen or loses them more frequently than the public might think, according to a 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General with the U.S. Department of Justice. 
In a five-year span from 2002-'07, for example, 76 ATF weapons were stolen, lost or missing, according to the report. That's nearly double the number compared with the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, when considering rates per 1,000 agents.
Is anyone who has read this far surprised?

If you're really interested, reading the articles that were linked at the top of this page is a good idea. I quoted from the Journal Sentinel (highlighted).

This is the same agency that created Operation Fast and Furious and the same agency that will be getting more and special powers from the President of the United States under his new firearms initiative.

I think that I may move to Mexico just to be safe from well meaning federal agents. 

On the Practice of Lying

In Mexico the army and the federal police water board everyone just to make sure that they have the story straight. (the Mexicans use a bottle of Tihuacan and a filthy rag but it's still water boarding). And while BATFE doesn't do that, they have a real bad habit of lying about damned near everything which means that nobody will trust them even when they assert ---- "we're not lying this time." The Mexicans proudly boast that they torture prisoners and they break. They don't lie about what they do...well not all the time.


  1. Replies
    1. I hate to say that it's typical of BATFE - but it is. There is a culture of 'fuck up - move up' and you can't fix stupid. You can fix a lot of things but you can't fix that.

  2. It doesn't appear that they could do anything right. Even with a million dollar budget.

    1. Most people would have to put out a concerted effort to screw up everything as comprehensively as BATFE did in Milwaukee -- and on the US/Mexico Border. Unfortunately it's part of the normal standard BATFE has been demonstrating nationwide.