ATF Agents Lured Mentally Disabled as Bait
Sting operations generated crime to arrest criminals: report
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2013 3:30 PM CST
In this Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 picture, Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF Phoenix, speaks behind a cache of seized weapons in Phoenix.    (AP Photo/Matt York)

(Newser) – Is the ATF out of control? In its sting operations, the agency has used mentally disabled teenagers as bait, opened drug- and gun-buying operations near schools and churches, and opened fake pawn shops that apparently spurred thefts and burglaries—including gun thefts from police cars. A lengthy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece tells various bizarre stories from ATF stings, and points out two likely causes: lack of oversight in the field and Congressional pressure to make arrests, regardless of whether the "bad guys" are mentally disabled teens or hardened criminals. Among the details:

  • ATF agents in Wichita befriended a man with an IQ in the lowly mid-50s, asked him to find guns, and arrested him on more than 100 felony counts of possessing of a weapon. "They'd tell me I was doing a good job, pat me on the back, telling me, 'You're doing a good job,'" the man told a judge who sentenced him to 3 years in prison.
  • ATF storefronts apparently stimulated the market for stolen goods in cities like Pensacola, Fla.—where one man perpetrated seven burglaries in six weeks to sell items to the store. It's unclear how many such items were ever returned to their owners.
  • The ATF opened one storefront, Squid's Smoke Shop in Portland, right across the street from a high school. Agents said they did it for the month-to-month rent, but it turned out they had signed a one-year lease. A county official defended the sting, saying, "We might not have been aware of all the activity next to a school without the undercover operation in place."
  • The stings have led to hundreds of long prison sentences, but many of them were minor criminals. "They got a bunch of table scraps, that's what they got, when it comes down to it," said a defense attorney.
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