Back in October I was rather incensed at the idea that police would befriend and use a friendless, autistic kid to buy pot. Of course, the autistic kid was arrested at his school in dramatic fashion. He had to be arrested- you’re not allowed to let undercover cops talk you into buying pot… even if you are developmentally disadvantaged (and if you’re doing it because you think you’ve finally made a friend).
Naturally, I was ecstatic to read that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is doing something similar. In a story published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week, we learned the story of Aaron Key:
Aaron Key wasn’t sure he wanted a tattoo on his neck. Especially one of a giant squid smoking a joint.
But the guys running Squid’s Smoke Shop in Portland, Ore., convinced him: It would be a perfect way to promote their store.
They would even pay him and a friend $150 a piece if they agreed to turn their bodies into walking billboards.
Key, who is mentally disabled, was swayed.
He and his friend, Marquis Glover, liked Squid’s. It was their hangout. The 19-year-olds spent many afternoons there playing Xbox and chatting with the owner, “Squid,” and the store clerks.
So they took the money and got the ink etched on their necks, tentacles creeping down to their collar bones.
It would be months before the young men learned the whole thing was a setup. The guys running Squid’s were actually undercover ATF agents conducting a sting to get guns away from criminals and drugs off the street.
The tattoos had been sponsored by the U.S. government; advertisements for a fake storefront.
The teens found out as they were arrested and booked into jail.
(Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/atf-uses-rogue-tactics-in-storefront-stings-across-the-nation-b99158607z1-234920791.html#ixzz2n0174Lk4
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The ATF’s use of the mentally disadvantaged in its operations is especially troublesome. Not just because the meek are the ones we should be looking out for. Mostly because the ATF very well may have been screwing up similar operations around the country.
Back in January the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms completely mishandled an attempt to clean up the streets of Milwaukee. Our friends at the ATF set up a clothing/shoe/jewelry/smoke shop staffed with ATF agents in a attempt to infiltrate the city’s criminal underside. The plan was to buy drugs and guns from felons to get all the guns and drugs that felons are selling to others off the street. It was a great plan. It couldn’t possibly go wrong.
Until it did. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story of just what a failure it was. It all started to unravel when some of the felons- presumably the types of guys the ATF was trying to bust- broke into the store and stole all of the ATF’s merchandise. From there, it just got worse:
[I]t resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store…
When the 10-month operation was shut down after the burglary, agents and Milwaukee police officers who participated in the sting cleared out the store but left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents.
And the agency remains locked in a battle with the building’s owner, who says he is owed about $15,000 because of utility bills, holes in the walls, broken doors and damage from an overflowing toilet.
It’s not like it was a total failure, though. They did get some guns off the street. That is, if you count the “street” as the display cases at Gander Mountain:
Other cases reveal that the agency’s operation was paying such high prices that some defendants bought guns from stores such as Gander Mountain and sold them to the agents for a quick profit
But, hey, it’s not like they didn’t arrest people:
The sting resulted in charges being filed against about 30 people, most for low-level drug sales and gun possession counts. But agents had the wrong person in at least three cases. In one, they charged a man who was in prison – as a result of an earlier ATF case – at the time agents said he was selling drugs to them.
A funny thing happened after the Journal Sentinel broke this story. It kept looking into ATF operations. That is how we’ve learned of the agency’s use of Mr. Key for its benefit. That’s only the start, too:
■ Agents in several cities opened undercover gun and drug buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.
■As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars.
■ Agents damaged buildings they rented for their operations, tearing out walls and rewiring electricity — then stuck landlords with the repair bills. A property owner in Portland said agents removed a parking lot spotlight,damaging her new $30,000 roof and causing leaks, before they shut down the operation and disappeared without a way for her to contact them.
■ Agents pressed suspects for specific firearms that could fetch tougher penalties in court. They allowed felons to walk out of the stores armed with guns. In Wichita, agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back — and provided instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed them to charge the man with a more serious crime.
■ In Pensacola, the ATF hired a felon to run its pawnshop. The move widened the pool of potential targets, boosting arrest numbers.Even those trying to sell guns legally could be charged if they knowingly sold to a felon. The ATF’s pawnshop partner was later convicted of pointing a loaded gun at someone outside a bar. Instead of a stiff sentence typically handed down to repeat offenders in federal court, he got six months in jail — and a pat on the back from the prosecutor.
I can’t help but wonder how this sort of stuff keeps happening. It would seem that taxpayer money might be better spent on… just about anything. Either the general public doesn’t know or doesn’t care. I’m guessing it’s the latter.