ATF Used Mentally Disabled and Felons to Run Storefront Stings

Sunday, December 15, 2013

As part of its undercover operations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) repeatedly used mentally disabled people, and in at least one instance a convicted felon.


Further, ATF arrested some of the mentally disabled individuals lured into the stings.


These findings surfaced after an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reviewed court records, police reports and other documents and interviewed dozens of people involved in six ATF operations nationwide.


The stings were lauded by ATF in recent years for arresting violent criminals and making communities safer.


But agency leaders left out stories like that of Aaron Key, whom ATF agents paid $150 to get a large tattoo of a squid on his neck to help promote their phony storefront operation at Squid’s Smoke Shop in Portland, Oregon. Key, who is mentally disabled, went along, got the tattoo, and later was arrested by ATF.


A similar development happened in Milwaukee, where agents hired a brain-damaged man to promote an undercover storefront and then arrested him for his work. And it happened yet again during sting operations in Wichita, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.


The agency also wasn’t above hiring felons to assist with fake businesses. In Pensacola, Florida, ATF used a felon to run its pawnshop. The move gave the agency wider access to potential targets, and boosted arrest totals.


Some legal experts say these decisions indicate something is wrong within ATF.


“To say this is just a few people, a few bad apples, I don’t buy it,” David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on law enforcement tactics and regulation, told the Journal Sentinel. “If your agency is in good shape with policy, training, supervision and accountability, the bad apples will not be able to take things to this level.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

ATF Uses Rogue Tactics in Storefront Stings Across Nation(by John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

Botched ATF Sting in Milwaukee Ensnares Brain-Damaged Man (by John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)



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