Guns in drug car­tel fight traced to ATF op­er­a­tion

Weapons likely to keep turn­ing up for years to come.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Richard A. Ser­rano McClatchy News­pa­pers

WASHINGTON — Two of the weapons found af­ter a drug car­tel gun­fight last month in Si­naloa, Mex­ico, that killed five peo­ple have been traced to the U.S. — one lost dur­ing the ATF’s Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous, the other orig­i­nally pur­chased by a su­per­vi­sory ATF agent who helped over­see the botched gun-track­ing op­er­a­tion.

The dis­cov­ery of the firearms — an AK-47 as­sault ri­fle and a 5.7 mm pis­tol — pro­vides new ev­i­dence that some of the 2,000 weapons lost un­der Fast and Fu­ri­ous, and oth­ers as well, con­tinue to flow freely across the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and likely will be turn­ing up at vi­o­lent crime scenes for years to come.

The pur­chase by the su­per­vi­sory agent, Ge­orge Gil­lett of the ATF’s Phoenix field of­fice, is un­der re­view by the De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s In­spec­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice, which this year found ma­jor sys­temic prob­lems with Fast and Fu­ri­ous.

In a brief phone call Wed­nes­day, Gil­lett de­clined to dis­cuss why he pur­chased the FN Her­stal pis­tol in Jan­uary 2010 or how it ended up in Mex­ico. He listed his ad­dress as the Phoenix ATF field of­fice in the pur­chas­ing doc­u­ments.

“I’ve got no com­ment. I can’t dis­cuss it,” he said. “But it was a law­ful trans­ac­tion.”

Sen. Charles Grass­ley, R-Iowa, a lead­ing con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tor into Fast and Fu­ri­ous, asked the IG’s of­fice to re­view whether Gil­lett used “false” in­for­ma­tion in ob­tain­ing the weapon and two oth­ers by list­ing the field of­fice or a Phoenix shop­ping cen­ter as his home ad­dresses.

The other weapon re­cov­ered af­ter the shoot­ing, a Ro­ma­nian AK-47-type WASR-10 ri­fle, was pur­chased in March 2010 in Ari­zona by Uriel Patino. It was one of more than 700 firearms he al­legedly ob­tained il­le­gally un­der the eyes of the fed­eral Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives in their at­tempts to track weapons to the Mex­i­can car­tels.

Patino is be­ing pros­e­cuted in Ari­zona in con­nec­tion with the pur­chases.

The shoot­ing oc­curred Nov. 24. Among those dead was Maria Su­sana Flores Gamez, a 22-yearold crowned “Si­naloa Woman” in 2012. Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties be­lieve she might have been armed, too, and fired at sol­diers or was used as a hu­man shield in the con­fronta­tion. Two sol­diers also died.

Gil­lett was the ATF’s as­sis­tant spe­cial agent-in­charge in Phoenix from Oc­to­ber 2009, when Fast and Fu­ri­ous be­gan, un­til April 2010. Dur­ing his ten­ure, Fast and Fu­ri­ous sus­pects il­le­gally pur­chased about 1,300 firearms for more than $1 mil­lion, yet ac­cord­ing to the IG, “agents made no ar­rests and just a sin­gle seizure.”

The IG, in its find­ings into Fast and Fu­ri­ous last Septem­ber, also con­cluded that Gil­lett “lost sight of the im­me­di­ate pub­lic safety risk be­ing cre­ated” by the op­er­a­tion or he “truly be­lieved” that the risk was worth the ef­fort if it led to car­tel lead­ers.

“In ei­ther case,” the IG said, “we found Gil­lett’s su­per­vi­sion and judg­ment in Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous se­ri­ously de­fi­cient.”

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