ATF's Favorite New Tool: Iffy Drug Stings
'USA Today' finds that questionable strategy has locked up more than 1K in decade
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2013 8:03 AM CDT
File photo of an ATF agent.   (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)

(Newser) – The good news from a crime-fighting perspective is that the ATF has locked up more than 1,000 criminals—often with sentences spanning more than a decade—who were caught trying to rob drug houses over the past decade. The questionable news? Those drug houses didn't actually exist. All the arrests came in sting operations, and USA Today weighs in with an investigative piece questioning whether the increasingly popular tactic is worth it. Judges and even some prosecutors have begun raising objections that the stings go too far into the gray zone of entrapment. Undercover agents approach potential sting targets with the idea, and critics say the lure of a big payday tilts desperate, low-level criminals into a high-stakes crime they otherwise wouldn't commit.

While the sting strategy is widely known when it comes to terror suspects, the scope of its use by the Justice Department in going after would-be drug-house robbers has gone largely under the radar. Two quotes help tell story:

  • Judge: It's a "disreputable tactic" that creates "an increased risk of entrapment because of the potential for the extensive use of inducements and unrealistic temptations to encourage the suspects' criminal conduct," wrote a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
  • ATF official: "Are we supposed to wait for him to commit a [obscenity] murder before we start to target him as a bad guy?" asks an ATF supervisor defending the idea of going after so-far nonviolent criminals. "Are we going to sit back and say, well, this guy doesn't have a bad record? OK, so you know, throw him back out there, let him kill somebody, then when he gets a bad record, then we're going to put him in jail?"
Click for the full story, which points out that use of the stings has more than quadrupled since 2003.

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Showing 3 of 43 comments
Jun 30, 2013 1:05 PM CDT
Quick, throw everyone in jail before they kill someone! This ATF agent sounds not too bright. Also, this is America!? Stop and frisk... "I know a bank vault..." warantless searches and wiretapping... good lord!
Jun 29, 2013 4:28 PM CDT
Not new.
Jun 28, 2013 10:03 PM CDT
It would seem that stings are entrapment, and entrapment is supposed to be illegal -- if you can afford to fight the matter in court if you're trapped in a setup. It only takes a few thousand dollars even when you're completely innocent.