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 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 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.