In ATF Death Watch 63, ATF Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb and U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy bemoaned the loss of innocent life caused by smugglers sending American gun store guns to Mexican drug cartels. The same activity conducted by the ATF during Operation Fast and Furious. Here’s the punchline: the gun smuggling in question—involving Columbus, New Mexico police chief Angelo Vega [above] and 15 co-conspirators—may have been ATF-enabled . . .
What’s more, the U.S. Attorney’s office has cut a deal with 13 of those charged with illegal firearms purchases and related crimes. The defendants faced 280 years in prison. Each. As part of their plea, the sentences will run concurrently. They’re going down for five to 10 years. In exchange for . . .
Regular readers of this series might suspect that the police chief and his gun smuggling crew caught a break in exchange for their silence on Operation Fast and Furious. Which would presume that they knew that the firearms in question—some 200 rifles and handguns—were amongst those the ATF let “walk” into Mexico. Presuming the firearms were part of the ATF’s stingless sting.
The public information officer whose name appears on yesterday’s celebratory press release ain’t sayin’ if Vega’s straw dogs were buying at the ATF’s behest—whether knowingly or unknowingly. Clock this from lc-sun.news.com:
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Texas on has neither confirmed nor denied whether the weapons in Gutierrez’s case were connected with the controversial [Operation Fast and Furious] sting, but said Thursday they were researching the matter.
Still? When asked the same question a month ago to the day, ATF spokesman Daryl Fields said the same thing. Note: the ATF could trace the weapons confiscated as part of the New Mexican case in ten minutes. Here’s an indication that there is, at the least, “overlap”:
Six of the smuggled weapons – three AK-47-type pistols and three pistols nicknamed “cop killers” — were purchased around Jan. 9, 2010, by straw purchasers in Arizona, according to court documents, leading to accusations from defense attorney C.J. McElhinney that the Columbus smuggling case was connected to Operation Fast and Furious.
TTAG’s put in a call to Mr. Fields for clarification. We’d also like to know how many of the guns in the New Mexico case were recovered and how many are still out there, somewhere . . .
In raids, law enforcement seized 40 of the AK-47 type pistols, more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition and 30 high-capacity magazines before they crossed the border, and found another 12 firearms in Mexico that were traced back to the defendants. Three others were found on three dead individuals in an SUV in Juárez, and others were found at a narcotics bust there, according to federal prosecutors.
Yes, well, who was shooting whom with these weapons and why? If the guns were used against Los Zetas, that would be a reasonable indication that the ATF was involved (Los Zetas being our least favored cartel). If drug thugs uses some of these rifles to ice ICE Agent Jaime Zapata inside Mexico, that’s another story.
How about some intel guys? Meanwhile, there’s one non-fed who might know whether or not the New Mexican gun smuggling was connected to the ATF: the ring-leader. Igancio “Nacho” Villalobos. Only he’s not available for interview . . .
The lawyer for one of Villalobos’ co-conspirator told TTAG that he’s seen photographic proof that the ATF had ALL the members of the New Mexican gun running ring under surveillance before the feds swooped down and made their arrests. Strange, then, that Villalobos, and Villalobos alone, managed to escape.
What are the odds? And what are the odds that Villalobos was a running a gun smuggling op in New Mexico that was both independent and parallel to the ATF’s Arizona and Tampa-based gun smuggling efforts?
As we said from the start of Senator Grassley and Congressman Issa’s investigation into the so-called Gunwalker scandal, the pols needs to [find and] interview the people at the sharp end of this black bag job.
While I’m not scanning the skies for black helicopters (yet), Uncle Sam’s minions are circling the wagons, attempting to keep a lid on who know who did what with which gun from what source and why.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is looking like one big ass conspiracy. Here’s the list of people involved with yesterday’s Vega-related high five:
The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with assistance from the Comandante Chihuahua State Police in Palomas, Mexico and the Secretariat of Public Security in Juarez, Mexico. The U.S. Marshal’s Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, New Mexico State Police, Las Cruces Police Department, El Paso Police Department as well as other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies also provided assistance during the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Greg McDonald and Steven Spitzer.
Obviously, the agencies involved were compartmentalized. (One of the reasons the Gunwalker scandal broke: the ATF didn’t tell agents at the sharp end why they shouldn’t bust smugglers before American gun store guns crossed the border.) McDonald and Spitzer may not even know the truth about U.S. government-sponsored gun smuggling.
But they might. Congress should ask, before the ATF and their helpers tie-up all the loose ends.