43 weapons in Phoenix traffic stop linked to ATF strategy

PHOENIX - The ABC15 Investigators have linked an additional 43 weapons recovered during a Phoenix traffic stop to the controversial Fast and Furious ATF case.

According to court paperwork, Phoenix Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered the guns in mid-April. They pulled over a vehicle near 83rd Avenue and Interstate 10, near the Phoenix and Tolleson border.

Documents filed in federal court reveal five suspects named in the case are accused of conspiring to possess and distribute "500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine…"

Four of the suspects are listed as undocumented immigrants. The fifth suspect had been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa, according to court documents.

THE WEAPONS RECOVERED

Agents recovered at least 59 weapons during the bust. The ABC15 Investigators found 43 are connected to the Fast and Furious case with certainty.

We reviewed official ATF Suspect Gun Summary documents – a sort of "watch list" for suspicious gun sales and gun buyers. We matched serial numbers within the ATF documents to gun serial numbers contained within the federal court documents.

Most of the recovered weapons connected to the Fast and Furious case included Romarm/Cugir GP-WASR 10/63 UF Rifles and Romarm Cugir Draco pistols. Agents also recovered at least one FN Herstal pistol.

We found evidence that multiple buyers purchased the weapons seized in the bust and some buyers purchased multiple weapons during one sale.

ACTING DIRECTOR TESTIFIES

According to representatives for the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, ATF's Acting Director, Kenneth Melson, testified about the Fast and Furious case in front of the House committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday July 4, 2011.

"Acting Director Melson's cooperation was extremely helpful to our investigation," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R- CA, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

"He was candid in admitting mistakes that his agency made and described various ways he says that he tried to remedy the problems. According to Mr. Melson, it was not until after the public controversy that he personally reviewed hundreds of documents relating to the case, including wiretap applications and Reports of Investigation (ROIs)," they wrote.

The letter also suggests the DEA, FBI and other agents may also be implicated in the Fast and Furious case. "…We have very real indications from several sources that some of the gun trafficking ‘higher-ups' that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may even have been paid as informants," the letter stated.

DOJ RESPONDS

Assistant Attorney General, Ronald Weich, responded to the letter by saying the Department of Justice is aware of the allegations and "discussions about whether and how to provide any such sensitive law enforcement information have been ongoing."

Weich continued, "this is not a matter of the Department attempting to keep any such material from the Committee for an improper purpose but a question of whether such material appropriately should be provided and, if so, how to best protect ongoing investigations."

T HE HISTORY

Phoenix ATF agents recently testified during a Congressional hearing that they knowingly allowed weapons to slip into the hands of straw buyers who would then distribute the weapons to known criminals.

The strategy was designed to lead ATF officials to key drug players in Mexico, but some agents admitted they never fully tracked the weapons after suspicious buyers purchased them.

"It made no sense to us either, it was just what we were ordered to do, and every time we questioned that order there was punitive action," Phoenix Special Agent John Dodson testified.

According to the testimony of three Phoenix ATF agents, including Dodson, hundreds of weapons are now on the streets in the United States and Mexico, possibly in the hands of criminals.

Dodson estimated the number could be as many as 1,800 weapons.

"…Fast and Furious was one case from one group in one field division," he testified. He estimated agents in the Phoenix field division "facilitated the sale of" approximately 2,500 weapons to straw purchasers. A few hundred have been recovered.

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