ATF Death Watch 89: 40 Fast and Furious Firearms “Found” in El Paso

There are so many curious aspects to the Gunwalker scandal. There are well over a thousand smoking guns still out there, somewhere. All of which prove that the ATF “lost control” of Operation Fast and Furious. But there is no single piece of evidence that answers the fundamental question about Uncle Sam’s gun running black bag job: why? What was the point of allowing bad guys to buy guns? The ATF claims they were going after the “big fish” controlling the U.S. gun stores-to-Mexican drug cartel weapons trade. That hardly seems likely—as there were no big fish to be gotten. It now looks like the ATF set about creating one. Or more. Equally damning, the ATF knew that Bureau-enabled guns were going awry a lot earlier than previously admitted . . .

A cache of assault weapons lost in the ATF’s gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix turned up in El Paso, where it was being stored for shipment to Mexico, according to new internal agency emails and federal court records.

Forty firearms along with ammunition magazines and ballistic vests were discovered in Texas in January 2010 during the early stages of the program, meaning the firearms vanished soon after the program began.

So what did the ATF do? Kept going of course. The latimes.com drills down on the logistics of the El Paso guns:

According to an ATF document, Sean Christopher Steward bought the 40 AK-47-type assault rifles on Dec. 24, 2009, from the Lone Wolf Trading Co. gun store in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix. The cache was part of 290 firearms ultimately acquired by Steward, a convicted drug felon, during the Fast and Furious operation . . .

According to ATF emails and a federal court affidavit, El Paso police officers tracking alleged drug smuggling from Mexico followed a dark blue Volkswagen Jetta as it backed into a garage at a residence on Jan. 13, 2010. The driver was identified as Alberto Sandoval. Police later searched the vehicle and found the weapons and other devices.

According to an email from ATF Special Agent Oscar B. Flores in El Paso, Sandoval told authorities that he was paid $1,000 “to store the firearms at his residence until they could be transported to the Republic of Mexico” by an unknown third party.

More emails discussing Sandoval’s arrest and the recovery of the weapons were sent to Washington headquarters and Kenneth Melson, then the ATF acting director, and William J. Hoover, the assistant director.

Sandoval was indicted and pleaded guilty to weapons charges in May 2010 in U.S. District Court in El Paso. He was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

The latimes.com mentions the fact that Steward was a convicted felon in passing. But that little factoid is yet more evidence that the FBI was in on Operation Fast & Furious, and not in a good way. The Agency had to game their instant background check system to let Steward’s purchases go through.

Common sense suggests that Steward knew the FBI and ATF knew that he was buying guns illegally. A convicted felon doesn’t expect to walk into a gun store and walk out with 290 firearms. If so, why the jail time? If not, why didn’t the ATF yank his chain earlier? Clearly, his tail was loose, at best.

The F&F-enabled guns went from Lone Wolf to Steward to Sandoval to an El Paso garage, in anticipation of an “unknown third party” Who somehow isn’t identified in the course of the investigation triggered when the local fuzz nab Bad Guy number two. And . . . that’s it.

As my mother likes to say, there’s no there there. No clearly delineated strategy behind Operation Fast and Furious, either in its idealized state (a “sting operation”) or in its actuation (literally incredible investigative tactics).

I still maintain that there’s an intersection between the ATF’s stingless sting and America’s federal policy towards Mexico and Mexican drug thugs. To try and view the ATF’s gun running in isolation, without examining the activities of all the other agencies implicated (DEA, IRS, CPB, ICE, FBI and the CIA), is to contemplate a diseased tree without considering the health of the forest.

Meanwhile, Mexico is on fire.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

24 Responses to ATF Death Watch 89: 40 Fast and Furious Firearms “Found” in El Paso

  1. avatarTom says:

    Anderson Cooper had a short piece about F&F last night. Maybe the story will start to gain traction with larger media outlets.

    • avatarLorenzo Poe says:

      Do you think both people saw it?
      I mean you and his other viewer, I wasn’t implying that he had three viewers.

  2. avatarAharon says:

    Good article. The Fast & Furious tentacles apparently do extend to many government agencies. If it gets exposed, taken up as an issue, and passed around by the blogs sphere it could make for some entertaining reading during the upcoming election year.

  3. avatarJamie in ND says:

    Not a doubt in my mind operation F&F was done to get the American people upset about “assault weapons” going to Mexican drug gangs so the libs could pass more gun control laws. They got gun registration on the border but not their holy grail “AWB” re-instated. This administration couldn’t care less who got killed by these gun, those people were just road kill on their liberal highway to more control over us “clingers”.

  4. avatarDirk Diggler says:

    I think the alphabet-soup gov’t agencies were doing something worse than worrying about us getting “assualt weapons”. They were arming the competition to the Zetas and other groups who were gaining the upper hand in the Mexican drug wars. At some point, if all of the competition was wiped out, then short of sending the US military to fight for our southern border, what would stop the winning cartel from marching north? No – this was a plan to level the playing field and keep the cartels down south fighting (and killing) each other long enough so that we could decide how we wanted to negotiate either a “truce” or whether or not we had (congressional) support to engage the hostiles ourselves. This is no different than any other covert arms scandal. The CIA wants to pick winners and losers abroad (the Contras, the Afghans, the Iranians, the Libyans, the Salvadorians). You name it, someone with a top secret clearance is involved, which means someone really high up is involved.

  5. avatarjohn gaines says:

    Sandoval had 40 AK’s in a Jetta?

  6. avatarliquidflorian says:

    I really don’t want to believe either possibility. This is just so shockingly evil you don’t want to believe it. I really hope people go to jail over this.

  7. avatarmhjhnsn says:

    The only theory that makes sense of the known facts is that the US government wanted to arm certain Mexicans. One theory is that the US wanted to arm the Sinoloa cartel against that Zetas. The idea that it was to create facts that didn’t exist, to support the argument that US gun sales are too lightly regulated, does not hold water because too many people knew about it, more than were necessary if that was the whole plan.

    And the idea that it is a sting gone awry just beggars belief, there was never any organization or resource commitment to actually follow all those guns. The intent had to be to get them into a particular someone’s hands.

  8. avatarDoug Collins says:

    I’m confused. Did the arrest of Sandoval take place in Dallas or El Paso?

  9. avatarPeter says:

    I cannot believe that anyone who had to have passed the investigation for a high level security clearance could have dreamed this up. It didn’t get anywhere near gaining it’s goals and, here it is, all over the internet. No, this was dreamed up by political operatives and, when everything is finally known, all the real law enforcement and intelligence officers will have been shown to tell these idiots that it wouldn’t, and couldn’t work.

    There are a bunch of folks wearing badges that should not be wearing them. There are far more that are in law enforcement and intelligence because they love this country. AND IT ONLY TAKES ONE TO TALK. As more than one did. Folks with clearances know this.

    The top political appointees do not need clearances. Could Holder get one? Obama? Hillary?

  10. avatarPhillipMarlow says:

    While I have no special information, the usual motive behind illegal actions involving politicians is money. The cartels have huge stashes of untracable dollars in the US, and are not adverse to spreading it around to politicians who can help their business prosper. This is what happened during Prohibition- just on a much smaller local scale. The current administration seems to have few scruples, and has been spreading huge amounts of Stimulus money to friends and friendly polictical donors. They find it more difficult to “reward” themselves because large monetary amounts going through conventional channels are too easy to trace. They have to settle for donations to regulated campaign funds from those donors they have benefitted. If so inclined, a policy maker at the Justice Department, or in the White House, could promote policies that protect or benefit the cartel, and easily reap tens of millions in return. It would be nearly impossible to prove such an arrangement existed. Policy favorable to a cartel is still just policy; no one is breaking the law unless it can be proved influence was sold in return for specific policy changes. This would be very hard to do. No high level cartel leaders is likely coming out of hiding to testify against a politician. Even if one did, no one would believe him. Even a colossal screw up like “Fast and Furious” can be sold as unintentional, with the blame shifted to underlings.
    Perhaps I am too cynical, but this line of reasoning seems more logical than accepting the argument that all this effort was expended just to discredit a gun policy.

  11. avatarPat Rich says:

    Let us not forget three indisputable facts:

    1. Inter-agency government programs REQUIRE high-level reviews and approvals, especially cross-border programs.
    2. Every government agency and department is run by an Obama appointee and THEIR appointees.
    3. Blame avoidance is a very finely honed political skill further enshrined in self-protective laws and endless layers of bureaucracy.

    The buck will never get to Obama; but this could not have happened, whatever the warped rationale behind it, without *some* knowledge on his part and the explicit approval of his personally-appointed underlings. To think otherwise is naive.

  12. avatarBruce MacMahon says:

    If this were a botched “sting” operation, intended to track the guns to the cartel leadership, or whatever, why were there BALLISTIC VESTS included with the rifles?

  13. avatarjms says:

    I tend to side with PhillipMarlow. If you follow the money, it usually leads to the crooked politician. Notice how Democratic fundraising is deep in the toilet, yet Obama still expects to raise a billion dollars in reelection funds. That money has to come from somewhere.

  14. avatarSusan says:

    I agree with what jms said: “Obama expects to raise a billion dollars. That money has to come from somewhere.” Yeah, it is. It is coming from the Stimulus bill. Look at what is happening with Solyndra, the unions, etc. It ALWAYS comes down to money. It is payback time to the administration from the slush fund. In my lifetime, I have NEVER seen such a corrupt administration. Zero is one and done.

  15. avatarMark Buehner says:

    Well, I’m convinced. The government has no reason to have an ATF in the modern era. Its just a relic of the old frontier prohibition days, and unless Al Capone is likely to kick the White House door in, there is just no need any more. Besides, only prohibition nuts would want an ATF anyway.

  16. When did El Paso morph into Dallas?

  17. avatarNCBob says:

    How much profit could there be in the sale of 40 AKs, delivered to the front door of the Zetas? Not all the crooks in the federal government are elected democrats!

  18. avatarAharon says:

    There are so many ways and sources that American politicians can turn to make extra money or get donations that I don’t see them needing this type of interaction for monetary reasons. I’m also suspicious as to why any of the wealthy cartels need to rely on American semi-auto rifles and other American gun store guns when they can afford to bring in the very best fully automatic combat rifles and other weapons from around the world. Mexico is not only corrupt, it has two long coastlines to smuggle weapons in from, and lots of flat unmonitored spaces to land a plane or drop parcels from abroad.

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