ATF Ruins the Lives of Disabled Teenagers to Solve a Problem the Bureau Created

Katie Pavlich

12/9/2013 2:00:00 PM - Katie Pavlich

If you don't already know by now, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms can't even run a store without royally screwing up. Nearly one year ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on an ATF sting gone bad when the bureau tried to catch bad guys by setting up a store. The sting ended in a damaged rent space, $35,000 in stolen goods and with a fully automatic machine gun lost on the city streets.

Now it appears ATF failed during another store front sting and is punishing teenagers they convinced to help them by throwing them in jail. We're talking about ATF agents convincing mentally disabled kids to get giant squid neck tattoos, having them participate in a sting operation, arresting them for participating and then calling it a success. You can't make this up:

Aaron Key wasn't sure he wanted a tattoo on his neck. Especially one of a giant squid smoking a joint.

But the guys running Squid's Smoke Shop in Portland, Ore., convinced him: It would be a perfect way to promote their store.

They would even pay him and a friend $150 apiece if they agreed to turn their bodies into walking billboards.

Key, who is mentally disabled, was swayed.

He and his friend, Marquis Glover, liked Squid's. It was their hangout. The 19-year-olds spent many afternoons there playing Xbox and chatting with the owner, "Squid," and the store clerks.

So they took the money and got the ink etched on their necks, tentacles creeping down to their collarbones.

It would be months before the young men learned the whole thing was a setup. The guys running Squid's were actually undercover ATF agents conducting a sting to get guns away from criminals and drugs off the street.

The tattoos had been sponsored by the U.S. government; advertisements for a fake storefront.

The teens found out as they were arrested and booked into jail.

In an effort to cover their behind for this insane and reckless behavior, ATF has tried to pin failed storefront incidents and the abuse of the disabled on the "this was an isolated incident," argument. The Sentinel further reports these kinds of incidents are hardly isolated and are happening all over the country.

Earlier this year when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed a botched ATF sting in Milwaukee — that included agents hiring a brain-damaged man to promote an undercover storefront and then arresting him forhis work — ATF officials told Congress the failed Milwaukee operation was an isolated case of inadequate supervision.

It wasn't.

The Journal Sentinel reviewed thousands of pages of court records, police reports and other documents and interviewed dozens of people involved in six ATF operations nationwide that were publicly praised by the ATF in recent years for nabbing violent criminals and making cities safer.

Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employed rogue tactics similar to those used in Milwaukee in every operation, from Portland, Ore., to Pensacola, Fla.

Among the findings:

¦ ATF agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as "slow-headed" before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a "tutorial" on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.

¦ Agents in several cities opened undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.

¦ As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars.

You can read about more egregious incidents here. ATF was also teaching people how to illegally saw off shotguns so they could turn around with an arrest for sawing off a shotgun. The same scenario played out with machine gun.

Guillermo Medel was a heroin addict and drug dealer hoping to make some cash to support his habit when a friend brought him to Jokerz Traderz pawnshop in a strip mall in a working-class neighborhood on San Mateo Blvd. in Albuquerque.

When they asked for a machine gun, Medel thought he had one for them [agents].

One problem: he didn't know what a machine gun was.

Medel had brain damage. Hit by a drunken driver when he was 7, Medel had spent months in the hospital and never fully recovered.

Agents took advantage of that and his drug addiction when they offered such high prices for guns, Medel's attorney, Brian Pori, said in court.

Pori told the Journal Sentinel he is "certain that the agents were aware that Guillermo was a drug-addicted, brain-damaged street hustler who never trafficked guns in his life."

"He wouldn't know how to use a machine gun to save his ass," Pori said.

Pori said agents gave Medel a "tutorial" in the back room of the pawnshop to help him distinguish a machine gun from a semiautomatic weapon.

ATF whistleblower John Dodson talks all about ATF's habit of creating a problem

in order to solve it in his new book , The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious, Dodson describes these types of situations as, "government bureaucracies manufacturing problems so they could take credit for solving them."

Newly minted ATF Direct B. Todd Jones is refusing to comment on these cases despite promising before his confirmation that he would clean up the agency.

This post has been updated.