ATF stings that promise loads of easy money snared 1,000 would-be criminals, a USA TODAY investigation finds. These fake drug stashes have led to hard time, begging the question: Is this 'good law enforcement' or has the government gone too far?
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency in charge of enforcing the nation's gun laws, has locked up more than 1,000 people by enticing them to rob drug stash houses that did not exist. The ploy has quietly become a key part of the ATF's crime-fighting arsenal, but also a controversial one: The stings are so aggressive and costly that some prosecutors have refused to allow them. They skirt the boundaries of entrapment, and in the past decade they have left at least seven suspects dead.
The ATF has more than quadrupled its use of such drug house operations since 2003, and officials say it intends to conduct even more as it seeks to lock up the "trigger pullers" who menace some of the most dangerous parts of inner-city America. Yet the vast scale of that effort has so far remained unknown outside the U.S. Justice Department.
To gauge its extent, USA TODAY reviewed thousands of pages of court records and agency files, plus hours of undercover recordings. Those records — many of which had never been made public — tell the story of how an ATF strategy meant to target armed and violent criminals has regularly used risky and expensive undercover stings to ensnare low-level crooks who jump at the bait of a criminal windfall.
In many cases, the records show the ATF accomplished precisely what it set out to do, arresting men outfitted with heavy weapons and body armor, and linked to repeated, and sometimes bloody, crimes. In the process, however, the agency also scooped up small-time drug dealers and even people with no criminal records at all, including Army Rangers. It has offered would-be robbers the chance to score millions of dollars of cocaine for a few hours of work. In at least one case, the ATF had to supply its supposed armed robbers with a gun.
The stings are the latest and perhaps clearest reflection of a broad shift by federal law enforcement away from solving crimes in favor of investigating people the government thinks are criminals. Such tactics are common in law enforcement's efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, but they are also becoming a staple of its fight against everyday street crime. Read more @ USAToday
Fake Drug Stings Targeting Blacks And Latinos Scheduled For Hearings
Attorneys representing dozens of Black and Latino male defendants charged in federal drug conspiracy and gun cases, after being snared in fake drug house sting operations, are heading to federal court early next month in a battle to have the charges dismissed.
The attorneys argue their clients were set up and targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) because of their race. They are using a comprehensive report that contains damning accusations—including how the agency demonstrated a “pattern of selective enforcement” targeting Blacks and Latinos during bogus sting operations. The Justice Department denies the charge. (See previous coverage of this story in Final Call Vol. 36 No. 1).
Status hearings are scheduled for April 5 at the Everett M. Dirksen building in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division in downtown Chicago. Read more @ Final Call Newspaper