Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gun store owner had misgivings about ATF sting

When federal agents with Operation Fast and Furious told Andre Howard to sell weapons to illegal purchasers, he complied, but he feared someone would get hurt. Then a border agent was shot.

By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times

Andre Howard owns the Lone Wolf gun store in Glendale, Ariz., part of Operation…

Reporting from Glendale and Rio Rico, Ariz. — In the fall of 2009, ATF agents installed a secret phone line and hidden cameras in a ceiling panel and wall at Andre Howard's Lone Wolf gun store. They gave him one basic instruction: Sell guns to every illegal purchaser who walks through the door.

For 15 months, Howard did as he was told. To customers with phony IDs or wads of cash he normally would have turned away, he sold pistols, rifles and semiautomatics. He was assured by the ATF that they would follow the guns, and that the surveillance would lead the agents to the violent Mexican drug cartels on the Southwest border.

When Howard heard nothing about any arrests, he questioned the agents. Keep selling, they told him. So hundreds of thousands of dollars more in weapons, including .50-caliber sniper rifles, walked out of the front door of his store in a Glendale, Ariz., strip mall.

He was making a lot of money. But he also feared somebody was going to get hurt.

"Every passing week, I worried about something like that," he said. "I felt horrible and sick."

Late in the night on Dec. 14, in a canyon west of Rio Rico, Ariz., Border Patrol agents came across Mexican bandits preying on illegal immigrants.

According to a Border Patrol "Shooting Incident" report, the agents fired two rounds of bean bags from a shotgun. The Mexicans returned fire. One agent fired from his sidearm, another with his M-4 rifle.

One of the alleged bandits, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, a 33-year-old Mexican from Sinaloa, was wounded in the abdomen and legs. Agent Brian Terry — 40, single, a former Marine — also went down. "I'm hit!" he cried.

A fellow agent cradled his friend. "I can't feel my legs," Terry said. "I think I'm paralyzed." A bullet had pierced his aorta. Tall and nearly 240 pounds, Terry was too heavy to carry. They radioed for a helicopter. But Terry was bleeding badly, and he died in his colleague's arms.

The bandits left Osorio-Arellanes behind and escaped across the desert, tossing away two AK-47 semiautomatics from Howard's store.

Some 2,000 firearms from the Lone Wolf Trading Company store and others in southern Arizona were illegally sold under an ATF program called Fast and Furious that allowed "straw purchasers" to walk away with the weapons and turn them over to criminal traffickers. But the agency's plan to trace the guns to the cartels never worked. As the case of the two Lone Wolf AK-47s tragically illustrates, the ATF, with a limited force of agents, did not keep track of them.

The Department of Justice in Washington said last week that one other Fast and Furious firearm turned up at a violent crime scene in this country. They have yet to provide any more details. They said another 28 Fast and Furious weapons were recovered at violent crimes in Mexico. They have not identified those cases either. The Mexican government maintains that an undisclosed number of Fast and Furious weapons have been found at some 170 crime scenes in their country.

***
Howard said he does not own a gun, does not hunt, and does not belong to the National Rifle Assn. His love is helicopters — a former Army pilot, he gives flying lessons. He said he fell into the gun-dealing business 21 years ago only to help support his career as a flight instructor. Howard spoke to a reporter for the first time in depth about why he cooperated with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He said he supported law enforcement, and never imagined a thousand weapons, or half of the entire Fast and Furious inventory, would "walk" out of his store. And when arrests were not forthcoming, "every passing week I was more stunned," he said.

According to a confidential memo written by assistant federal prosecutor Emory Hurley, "Mr. Howard had expressed concerns about the cooperation he was providing and whether he was endangering himself or implicating himself in a criminal investigation."

Other firearms dealers shared his concerns. At the nearby Scottsdale Gun Club, the proprietor sent an email to Agent David Voth. "I want to help ATF," he said, "but not at the risk of agents' safety because I have some very close friends that are U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern AZ."

Howard recalled that a chubby, bald and "very confident" man named Jaime Avila walked into the store on Jan. 16, 2010, and bought the AK-47s. Under the Fast and Furious protocol, agents were supposed to use the video cameras, surveillance, informants and law enforcement intelligence to follow the weapons and hope they led them to the drug cartels.

But no agents were watching on the hidden cameras or waiting outside to track the firearms when Avila showed up. Howard faxed a copy of the sale paperwork to the ATF "after the firearms were gone," assuming they would catch up later. They never did.

Between November 2009 and June 2010, according to an ATF agent's email to William Newell, then the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, Avila walked away with 52 firearms after he "paid approximately $48,000 cash. The firearms consisted of FN 5.7 pistols, 1 Barrett 50 BMG rifle, AK-47 variant rifles, Ruger 9mm handguns, Colt 38 supers, etc.…"

Sometime in spring or early summer 2010 — the exact date is unknown — U.S. immigration officers reportedly stopped Avila at the Arizona border with the two semiautomatics and 30 other weapons. According to two sources close to a congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, the authorities checked with the ATF and were told to release him with the weapons because the ATF was still hoping to track the guns to cartel members.
In Washington, ATF officials declined to comment. In Congress, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House investigating committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department why Avila was not jailed and the guns seized. They have yet to receive an answer.

The two semi-automatics would turn up again, this time at the scene of the Terry shooting. According to sources, they were hidden in backpacks and stashed in the desert, ready for Mexican bandits.

***
When weapons were recovered at the scene of the agent's slaying, ATF officials in Phoenix scrambled. "All these ATF guys were showing up," one law enforcement official recalled. "We were trying to catch suspects and rope up the crime scene, and all the ATF guys were saying they needed the serial numbers! They needed the serial numbers!"

Newell wanted an immediate trace on the semiautomatics, and that afternoon ATF agents showed up at the Lone Wolf store. Howard had heard of Terry's death. "I was scared to death," he said. They asked for his paperwork and matched the serial numbers. "Both of them were in shock, too," he said. "You could tell they were sick."

A little before 8 that night, the Phoenix ATF field office sent out an agency-wide bulletin: The suspect guns were Fast and Furious weapons. In Washington the next morning, then-ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson prepared to notify the Border Patrol.

Avila was arrested, and initially held just for using a bad address on the purchase form. "This way," Voth emailed the ATF field office, "we do not divulge our current case [Fast and Furious] or the Border Patrol shooting case."

In a subsequent report for Fast and Furious classified "Law Enforcement Sensitive," agents said Avila was buying for a Phoenix-based gun trafficking group that hid the weapons in vehicle compartments and drove them over the border from Arizona and Texas. The trafficking group used cash from drug sales to buy the weapons. The AK-47 was their weapon of choice, bought after cocaine and methamphetamines warehoused in Baja California were shipped north and sold in this country.

Other Avila weapons from Howard's store wound up at a Glendale home and a Phoenix automotive business, both "firearm drop locations," according to the ATF report. Still more were recovered in Sonora, Mexico, not far from Rio Rico.

In January, Avila and 19 others were charged in the straw purchasing. It was the one and only indictment to come out of 15 months of Fast and Furious. Asked at the press conference touting the charges whether the ATF allowed guns to "walk," Newell, the ATF field supervisor, responded, "Hell no!"

His denial and the agent's death provoked a small group of ATF whistle-blowers. They contacted Congress, and investigators asked the agency whether Terry was shot by Fast and Furious weapons.

The ATF replied that neither semiautomatic fired the fatal bullet. In truth, an FBI ballistics report could not determine whether one of the semiautomatics or a third weapon killed Terry.

Avila pleaded not guilty to the firearms charges, was released on bail and has yet to stand trial. Osorio-Arellanes was charged in the Terry slaying in May. No other suspects in the slaying have been arrested.

In Glendale, after two decades in business, Howard is thinking about closing his Lone Wolf gun store. He also has second thoughts about helping law enforcement.

"Was I betrayed?" he said. "Absolutely yes."

26 comments:

  1. Another "Change" the Obama administration gave us! This is horrible. There guys just let the guns flow into Mexico without any follow up. The blood of this agent is on every one of these bureaucrats hands! I hope they loose sleep at night, but judging from the debacle they have put the country in, I'd say they wont.

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  2. It is difficult to comment because I am once again just stunned and feeling numb. There is so much wrong with the ATF's actions or lack thereof. I am currently dealing with an Army med board that is as crooked as a dogs hind leg. I see parallels in the level of stupidity and arbitrary disregard for law and ethics.

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  3. The Obama administration wanted to make the case that most weapons used in Mexican crime come from the U.S. so they can enact gun ban laws. This is the end result of that corruption.

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  4. I'm happy for this guy, he made questions before shit hitted the fan.

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  5. your country needs to get control of it's loose laws you have in the U.S. on semi automatic weapons. but when you try and get tougher laws your people start with "you can take my freedom, but don't take my guns" it's a hillbilly world for you guys cause only stupid people control your country. it's not just a one way road cause some of the shit is our responsibility as will. we need to work together in stopping drugs from coming into the U.S., and the U.S. need to work on getting tougher weapons law so they don't reach those cowards hands. count yourself lucky you don't have to live the violence that my country sees, died body's that our children witness. yes, they killed a BP officer, but just think how many of those guns are killing innocents people here in Mexico.

    sorry for my misspelling/grammar

    v(^_^)v

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  6. Obama is too much of a pussy to go after assault guns bans like President Clinton, Hillary Clinton has bigger balls. This country needs to stop selling AK-47 AND AR-15's because anyone who wants to buy those weapons are either NARCOS/ Gun freaks.

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  7. no thank you senor on taking our guns away..we already have one Mexico..we don't need another ...as for your hillbilly remark..i will let that pass considering the source..but you just stay unarmed..at the mercy of your corrupt government and criminals

    but i will ask you to consider this,,how would an unarmed US border region be?..peaceful? ...as peaceful as the Mexican side?

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  8. The 2 posters above me are idiots. The only reason Mexico has a problem with violence is because 1) your government allows it because they dont care about you. 2) because a good slice of your citizens are heartless people. You cant blame all the violence on the US because of our guns laws, with such "loose" guns laws here wouldnt you think America would look similiar to Mexico?? But we dont because we know the difference between right and wrong, the difference between self protection and killing someone in cold blood. Also with such "loose" gun laws and so much high grade marijuana why doesnt Canada have these same problems Mexico has? Must be because the people do not act barbaric and there government actually works to help the citizen. You morons need to remember this, when you point your finger at someone you have atleast 3 pointing back at you. These problems in Mexico are Mexicos to deal with, not the USA's issues. Sorry you guys are in this position but you cant blame anyone but yourselves. Enjoy living in the country you and your ancestors built.

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  9. @3:42AM,
    Your comment makes little to no sense, my friend. The irony here is, Mexico has some of the most strict gun laws in the world, yet every swinging dick cartel member is armed to the teeth! You know laws don't mean whole lot when your unable to enforce them! As is the case in Mexico. You can blame the U.S. all you want but at the end of the day Mexico is responsible for Mexico..you can't have it both ways blaming another country for your countries present condition. As far as "Fast and Furious" is concerned, it is a very minor flaw in the scheme of things, when you look at the big picture. The drug violence/war has been escalating since 2006..way before F&F was implemented..and the only reason why we have knowledge of F&F is because Americans stepped up and did the right thing..Again my criticism is based on the notion that placing the blame on someone else is an excuse for when you have no viable answer or solutions to the problem, as is the case in Mexico..

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  10. @4:26AM,
    Please, don't be naive to think that gun control legislation will solve the problem. It won't! DTO's have billions of dollars to illegally purchase, whatever they want...laws only apply to those, who follow them! Case in point..you ever stop and think..why what's happening in Mexico is not occurring in the U.S. I'm talking about DTO street patrols in luxury SUV's, DTO training camps, mass gun battles during the daylight hours, bodies littering the public streets, etc. Yes, the U.S. can be a violent place, no doubt, but a DTO Capo's worst fear is to be caught and extradited to the U.S. Why is that you think..bottom line the DTO's fear very little in the way of the Mexican Gov't and until that changes..Mexico's drug violence will continue to thrive..

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  11. @3:42 No we're not lucky, butthead, we just run a country 1000 times better than anyone else. Yeah yeah yeah we need to work together - that's your code for "do what I want".

    Mexico has the toughest gun laws in the world but nobody in Mexico has ever cared about any kind of law and that attitude has now come back to bite you. There is no rule of law in Mexico, for any law. And you want to tell the US it's all our fault for taking so many drugs and selling guns.

    Bullshit. You have the kind of country you want so you fix it. Can't blame the gringos anymore.

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  12. AK47 and ar15 are used for hunting. It's a very poplar rifle probably The 2 most poplar in the us. And 99% of these guns bought will never be used in a crime. If they were level in Mexico I think crime. Would go down.

    A unarmed society is an easily controled society as the narco have proven

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  13. anonymous 3:42.....
    Thanks for your moronic advice on how we should "control our loose gun laws".
    Freedom is a beautiful thing, yet so many are willing to sacrifice it for the promise of security. One of the greatest and important freedoms to possess is the freedom to defend yourself, family and community. To willfully give up that freedom on the promise that a corrupt government will better perform that duty for you is a gamble that only a fool would make. Our constitution is the document that protects our rights to provide for our own security. We will not give up these rights to any government, let alone a corrupt regime that would initiate the "Fast and Furious" program.
    Mexicans never cease to amaze me by their willingness to accept totalitarian authority over them. Generations of Mexicans have long accepted the corrupt police and government officials enriching themselves at public expense. Even the intellectual elite suggest negotiating with the murderous animals in the cartels. It is this cultural flaw that has turned a beautiful land, full of resources, with hundreds of miles of coastline and near perfect climate into a third world hell hole.
    Yea sure, we'll take advise from you on how we should restrict firearms to American citizens, just as soon as you rid yourselves of every corrupt cop.

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  14. @anonymous 3:42
    My suggestion to your country (that evidently you don't believe is run by stupid people) is that they should develop a borders and customs service so that you can inspect southbound vehicles for weapons. You see in the US it is not illegal to transport weapons, only the sale is regulated. To ask another country to change its laws so that you don't have to pay taxes to support a CBP is beyond audacious. Is there any part of YOUR country that you think YOUR citizens are responsible for?

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  15. i have to say the fast and furious operation was the stupidest thing ever devised...it is a real authentic fucktard move ..even for the illustrious BATF idiots...the moron who came up with this one needs a promotion...they may even be presidential material....

    track the guns..why..to pass the info along to the Mexican police..PAHHAHAHAAAA!!!!!!...Mexican police is a contradiction in terms...

    but it can not be used to justify Mexico's complete failure as a society...nor should it be used to launch a pogrom on guns ,by our own homegrown idiot gun control nuts...

    and to have some friend from south of the border espousing gun control in the USA....BAJJAJAAAAAAA!!!!!!excuse me while i get my breath and get off the floor...PAJAJJAAJAAA!!!!

    MEXICO IS A POSTER CHILD FOR WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DISARM THE GOOD PEOPLE

    they then have to become bad people to survive

    the guys who just killed 52 people used petrol..lets ban petrol..i bet the gas can they used was made in china..lets ban chinese gas cans...how bout the cars they drove ...ban those also...and on and on ad ridiculum

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  16. If Mexico is so worried about guns coming in they should do what we do search inbound vehickes.

    It's not our problem why should we pay for it?

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  17. AS always Lito, your dead on. A gun is made of metal and steel. Sitting in a closet it does nothing. In the arms of a person with bad intentions, it does harm. In the hands of a "gun nut", well, they enjoy letting loose some stress at the gun range, but that is far from going on killing sprees of innocent and not so innocent people. Their is more than one way (a gun) to kill people. Most of these victims were tortured so bad they were dead before they added the bullets to them for good measure. I`ve seen some of the "real" pictures from autopsy scenes and the bullets were the least of these peoples problems. The massive knife wounds, the blunt trauma to the head, the ligature marks around their necks. Saying Mexico would be safer without guns is not an accurate statement. I`d actually rather just be shot with an AK, than suffer what these people endure. Sad, but true. Some of the most heinous acts ever committed by another human being. Don`t blame the gun, blame the mentality. 90% of folks wouldn`t dare even point a gun at someone, but those other 10% would do much worse and are doing so in Mexico, and although it isn`t publicized, there are incidences here in the USA, albeit most are in Arizona desert and alot is Narco on Narco violence, but still, it`s on US soil.

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  18. And there you have it - the idea that the way to help Mexico is to make the US citizens as defenseless as the Mexican citizens are, is really the mindset that led Mexico into this mess, and is stopping them from digging their way out of it.

    The poster above had it right - there is no reason Mexico shouldn't be a first-world nation; great climate, oil reserves, coastline - it's got it all. Yet it's in the sewer - why is that ?

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  19. The poster above me makes perfect sense. MX is its own worst enemy. A couple changes in law and a clearing out of dirty politicans etc. and MX would be a leader amongst nations, lets be real though. This will never happen.

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  20. Jesus the Moose USMCSeptember 16, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    I just told a kid that I wouldn't recommend him for military service because he retains some gang ties and that I wouldn't want him trained with weapons and tactics. Fast and Furious ignored the obvious danger brought on by straw buyers that equip criminals.

    Even though I can carry some weapons legally I dread that I may ever have to use them because I respect life and the Creator. Narcos have no fear of God and seem to thrive with brutality. Anyone who equips or aids one of the guys deserves a stiff boot upside the head.

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  21. Ummm...last time I checked, Mexicans also have their own form of customs and border patrol. So for Mexicans to continually blame the US for their problems are out of their f'ing minds.

    Even if the US allowed those guns to leave the country, the onus is on the MEXICANS AND NO ONE ELSE to stop the flow of said guns.

    Quit blaming everyone else other than what's right infront of you.

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  22. We used to enforce our firearms laws, until Obama and his stooges got into office. Four more years of that idiot and we may start looking more like Mexico.

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  23. IS SAN LUIS POTOSI DANGEROUS FOR AMERICANS??

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  24. is san luis potosi safe for americans??

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  25. US SHOULD NOT TAKE AWAY GUNS JUST CONTROL IT ANY ONE CAN BUY 15 AR OR AK'S IF BACK GROUND CHECK GOES GOOD AND IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY. US HAS A BIG RESPONSIBILITY IN THE WAR IN MEXICO DUE TO DRUG DEMAND AND WEAPON TRAFICKING PLUS FINANCING THIS WAR ASOCIATED WITH CROOKED MEXICAN POLITICS.AND ALOT OF YOUR REMARKS ARE STRAIGHT IGNORANT!!

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  26. San Luis Potosi is in Mexico baboso ! Can't you read or seen the news ?

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