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After Year of Stonewalling, Issa Subpoena's ATF Over Sketchy and Reckless Storefront Tactics

Over the past two years, investigations conducted by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel have uncovered a whole slew of shady tactics being used in operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. During their research, The Journal reporters found ATF agents prey on mentally ill teenagers (including ATF agents pressuring at least one young man to get a squid tattooed on his neck) to "help" with gun stings and found agents lost a fully automatic rifle on the streets of Milwaukee after it was stolen out of an unsupervised government vehicle. Careless actions from agents also resulted in thousands of dollars in damages to a rented storefront and the exposure of the names belonging to undercover agents. These actions aren't isolated incidents, but instead are happening all over the country. Here's more background on that:

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.

Now after a year of the Obama administration, Department of Justice and ATF stonewalling Congress on questions about ATF tactics, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa has issued a subpoena to the Bureau that demands documents related to storefront stings.

"After more than a year of promised cooperation, multiple letters to you, and several unfulfilled document requests, I have no choice today but to issue the enclosed subpoena to compel the production of documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation,” Issa wrote in a letter to ATF Director B. Todd Jones Thursday. "Nominated to lead ATF in the wake of the reckless Operation Fast and Furious, you were ultimately confirmed as Director with an expectation that you would clean up field operations and end the reckless behavior that has defined ATF in recent years. The Milwaukee storefront operation, in particular, is troubling because it occurred entirely under your watch. Additionally, it was part of ATF's "Monitored Case Program," which was created following Fast and Furious to provide enhanced oversight of ATF field operations. It is surprising that failures such as Operation Fearless in Milwaukee occurred despite this enhanced oversight from ATF leadership, and these operations call into question your leadership at ATF."

Issa continued, "The time for hollow promises are over. Regrettably, I must now compel you to produce the requested documents."

The Committee’s Subpoena Requires ATF to Provide Documents Including:

· Communications relating to Operation Fearless Distributing and the Monitored Case Program at ATF.
· Operational plans and relevant Reports of Investigation for undercover storefront operations conducted around the country.

· Documents relating to authorization for ATF agents to sell weapons during these operations.

· ATF policies for conducting undercover storefront operations.

· Relevant Reports of Investigation, for undercover storefront operations conducted between January 1, 2010 and March 19, 2014, in any of the following cities:

o Milwaukee, Wisconsin
o Portland, Oregon
o Wichita, Kansas
o Albuquerque, New Mexico
o Pensacola, Florida
o Atlanta, Georgia

Jones has until March 31 to comply with the subpoena.

Editor's Note: I have been informed the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is referred to as "The Journal" rather than the "Sentinel" as I wrote. I apologize for the error. The shortened version of the newspaper name has been changed in the piece.

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