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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (and really big fires) is constantly under the gun, mostly for inefficiency. Every time the Department of Justice’s Inspector General lifts up the ATF rock—and he has done so several times over the last few years—he finds nasty little things crawling in the dirt. Yesterday’s revelation that the unconstitutional eTrace system was a shambles is only the latest in a long line of ATF screw-ups. Lest we trust the ATF to keep those American gun purchase records safe from inquisitive Mexican programmers and their friends, please note that the Bureau lost 418 lost laptops and 76 weapons—that we know about—two of which were subsequently used in crimes. Need I go on? Hey, it’s your money . . .

“It is especially troubling that that ATF’s rate of loss for weapons was nearly double that of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and that ATF did not even know whether most of its lost, stolen, or missing laptop computers contained sensitive or classified information,” [Inspector General Glenn A.] Fine wrote.

That was 2008. This is now. And now you’ve got to wonder why we have an agency that has to compete with other, better agencies for work. To wit: today’s ATF press release trumpeting their efforts in a high profile drug case.

An indictment was unsealed today against members of the so-called Harlem Boys, charged in a conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and other crimes, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Special Agent-in-Charge Mark Potter with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. In addition to the RICO conspiracy, the 73-count indictment charges attempted murder in aid of racketeering, Hobbs Act robbery, carjacking, assault in aid of racketeering, numerous substantive drug offenses, and firearms offenses that include use of firearms during the commission of violent crimes and drug crimes. The indictment names 17 defendants, 10 of which were arrested this morning during a law enforcement operation by ATF and Philadelphia Police, in Southwest Philadelphia.

You’ll never see an ATF case all on its lonesome. The ATF’s work overlaps that of the FBI, DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security, State Police, Tribal Police (yes), The Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force (above) and some players to be named later. So the Bureau has to find a crime that involves Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms or Explosives (or really big fires) and muscle in—I mean liase with other law enforcement authorities.

Now you’d think that firearms part of the ATF’s remit would center specifically on the illegal sale of firearms. Well, here’s a list of the charges against the Philly crew:

The indictment alleges that from at least 2001, defendant Terrance Hamm began running a violent drug operation in and around the Bartram Village Housing Development (BVHD), in Southwest Philadelphia. The gang, which also included defendants Ramel Moten, Merrell Hobbs, Omar Roane, Reginald Stephens, Damon Turner, Bryan Hill, Warren Stokes, Allen Parker, Khalil Allen, Andre Tiller, Tayale Shelton, Hikeem Torrence, and Shyheem Davis, used the names Harlem Boys, Young Hit Men, and 54. According to the indictment, members of the enterprise and their associates committed acts of violence, and attempted or threatened to commit acts of violence, including murder and robbery, in order to protect and expand the criminal enterprise, and to promote a climate of fear through violence and intimidation. The gang allegedly committed violent acts against outsiders who entered or attempted to enter the BVHD without the consent of the enterprise. For example, when defendants Omar Roane and Merrell Hobbs encountered victim K.S. on August 10, 2006, defendants Omar Roane and Merrell Hobbs carjacked K.S.’s vehicle at gunpoint, stole the car keys, and then fired shots at K.S. and others as they drove away in the carjacked vehicle. On October 5, 2006, defendants Omar Roane and Allen Parker assaulted and shot at victim J.C. The defendants also committed acts of violence against persons whom they believed might be trying to sell controlled substances within the BVHD. For example, on February 27, 2007, defendant Terrance Hamm took a cash payment for crack cocaine, then refused to deliver the drugs and threatened to shoot the individual who supplied the cash when he attempted to get the money back.

Nope. Not a single charge of an illegal gun sale. In terms of alcohol or tobacco, I bet they drank and smoked. Send in the ATF!

Seriously. The ATF is costing tax payers $1b+ per year. Can’t the Bureau go after underage smokers? At least that effort would reduce the federal deficit by relieving some of the burden on our new national health care program. And keep the Bureau out of everyone’s hair.

And if you think TTAG needs a little balance in our coverage of the ATF men and women risking their lives to make ours safer, reports that ATF PR help is on the way! Maybe.

Flashbang is also teaming with MPH Entertainment (“Dog Whisperer”) to develop and produce “K9 Task Force: Dogs of the ATF,” a reality series about the ATF’s highly trained canine force and the role it plays in the detection of explosives and weapons at home and in war zones.

War zones? The ATF works in war zones? Who knew?

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  1. Why can't the big shots in DC dump the ATF and move all the agents (or at least the good one's) into the FBI, DEA, etc??? C'mon, congress could do this in one session!!

  2. Steve, There are a billion reasons why your duly elected representatives don't want to deep-six the ATF. When you have an agency sucking up a billion plus dollars, everyone gets a taste. And the agency has "advocates" prowling the halls of power making sure no such thing occurs. Just the opposite, in fact. The ATF just got an EXTRA $37.5 million to set up SEVEN field offices they don't need. That will cost more and more in overhead and expansion. It's like that line in the Hotel California: they stab it with their steely knives but they just. Can't. Kill the beast. Only no one's stabbing.

  3. I’m may be confused. Your headline said this wasn’t a federal case, but then you use press from the United States Attorney’s office… citing a 73-count indictment. What did I miss?


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