Testifying Wedesday in front of the House Oversight Committee, ATF Director B. Todd Jones denied allegations and evidence that ATF agents purposely target mentally ill or disabled persons for undercover storefront operations.
"We do not target mentally disabled or mentally challenged individuals, we target criminal behavior," Jones said, arguing ATF agents don't know or can't tell when someone is mentally ill or disabled when working with them during operations. "We do not target the developmentally disabled."
Jones was asked about targeting of brain damaged and mentally disabled persons, including teenagers, after a damning report was published last year in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Not only were mentally disabled people targeted and taught by agents how to illegally manipulate firearms, but they were also encouraged and paid to get neck tattoos of a smoking squid. Those tattoos were paid for by ATF, courtesy of the American taxpayer.
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.
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.
ATF has a history of setting up storefronts in major cities across the country and agents have made major mistakes in many of them. In Wisconsin, a fully-automatic machine gun was stolen out of an unsupervised ATF vehicle. That firearm has never been recovered.
The effort to date has not snared any major dealers or taken down a gang. Instead, it resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.
"Agents allowed felons to leave the store with fully automatic weapons," Chairman of the Committee Darrell Issa said during the hearing in reference to the Milwaukee storefront. "ATF actions may actually be increasing crime in your neighborhood."
During the hearing, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth wasn't buying Jones' argument that ATF agents can't tell when people they work with are mentally impaired.
"You don't think your agents dealing with an individual with an IQ in their 50s knew they were dealing with a mentally disabled person?" Duckworth said. "If your IQ is in the 50s it is very clear someone is mentally disabled."
Chairman of the Committee Darrell Issa agreed.
"Your agents target people with low IQ's because they are susceptible to this kind of buddying up," Issa said. "One individual was tutored by ATF agents about how to use a machine gun so he could go out, buy one, and then be arrested by ATF."
Although ATF's storefront operations were the focus of the hearing, Jones was also pressed on accountability for Operation Fast and Furious and about two ATF visits to True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht after she applied for tax exempt status through the IRS. It was again confirmed not a single person has been fired as a result of Fast and Furious and Jones referred to ATF visits to Engelbrecht as the agency doing its job, not harassment.