PHOENIX - Weapons linked to a questionable government strategy are turning up in crimes in Valley neighborhoods.
For months the ABC15 Investigators have been searching through police reports and official government documents. We've discovered assault weapons linked to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' controversial "Fast and Furious" case strategy have turned up at crime scenes in Glendale and Phoenix communities.
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.
THE ABC15 INVESTIGATION
Dodson guessed the majority of the missing weapons are in Mexico.
"I believe that these firearms will continue to turn up at crime scenes on both sides of the border for years to come," testified Phoenix Special Agent Peter Forcelli.
Weapons linked to the strategy have been turning up at dangerous and deadly crime scenes near both sides of the border, including the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was killed last December.
The ABC15 Investigators uncovered documents showing guns connected to at least two Glendale criminal cases and at least two Phoenix criminal cases also appear in the ATF's Suspect Gun Database, a sort-of watch list for suspicious gun sales.
All four cases involve drug-related offenses. In one Glendale police report dated July 2010, police investigators working with DEA agents served search warrants at homes near 75th and Glendale avenues in Glendale, and 43rd and Glendale avenues in Phoenix as part of a "large scale marijuana trafficking" investigation.
Police investigators reported they "obtained information that members of the (trafficking) organization were using the homes…as stash houses used to store large amounts of marijuana temporarily."
They reported finding hundreds of pounds of marijuana, more than $63,000 in U.S. currency and three guns inside the homes. One of the recovered weapons, a Romarm/Cugir WASR-10 rifle, appeared in an official ATF Suspect Gun Summary document in November 2009, proving agents knowingly allowed the suspicious gun sale, months before the weapon turned up at the crime scene.
In a separate Glendale Police Department case, dated November 2010, detectives discovered "bulk marijuana and weapons" inside a residence near 75th Avenue and Bethany Home Road in Glendale. Investigators recovered nearly 400 pounds of drugs and several firearms from the home.
One of the recovered weapons, another Romarm/Cugir WASR-10 rifle, appeared in an official ATF Suspect Gun Summary document in February 2010.
The two Phoenix cases, also connected to drugs, occurred in March and August 2010.
In the August case, Phoenix officers conducted a traffic stop near 83rd Avenue and McDowell Road in Phoenix. They discovered marijuana and an AK-47 in the driver's trunk as well as other weapons.
One of the suspects explained he purchased the Romarm/Cugir Draco weapon for $600 on the street, but he wouldn't reveal from whom he purchased the gun. ATF documents show the weapon had been entered into the ATF Suspect Gun Database in January 2010.
Officers recovered an FN Herstal Five-Seven weapon in the March case. During that ongoing drug investigation, near 43rd Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix, officers had been conducting surveillance after receiving information that a suspect was selling methamphetamine and marijuana.
CONGRESSIONAL LEADER RESPONDS
"With people like you down there in Arizona investigating this," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), "and with Congressman Issa and this Senator on the case, they know we're not going to give up."
Grassley has been demanding information from ATF leaders, trying to determine who had knowledge of the controversial strategy and when they knew.
also sent public records requests to every sheriff's department in Arizona and several local Valley departments, requesting information about weapons that have turned up at Valley crime scenes that may have been connected to the Fast and Furious operation.
"Who knows where they're going to end up," Grassley said. "There's ample evidence – even besides your own investigation – that they've been used in crimes on this side of the border, but how many? I can't give you a figure."
ATF representatives denied ABC15's open records request for documents showing other weapons connected to the Fast and Furious case that may have been involved in other crimes in the United States.
They also denied our request for an interview, saying the case is still under investigation.