Top Fast and Furious target was released by ATF

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A primary target of Operation Fast and Furious was brought into custody by U.S. Border Patrol and then released in May 2010 after agreeing to cooperate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He returned to Mexico and dropped out of touch with the ATF.

On May 29, 2010 Border Patrol agents stopped Manuel Acosta and found illegal materials in his truck, including “AK type, high capacity drum magazine loaded with 74 rounds of 7.62 ammunition underneath the spare tire,” according to an internal ATF report obtained by CBS News.

The ATF report said Border Patrol agents found an ammunition magazine hidden in a spare tire and nine phones in the dashboard of Acosta’s car. In the trunk was a ledger referring to money paid to “Killer” and a list of firearms.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Acosta described to ATF agents his close association with a top Mexican drug cartel member. ATF Special Agent Hope MacAllister, a top Fast and Furious investigator, wrote her phone number on a $10 bill after he pledged to cooperate and stay in contact. The ATF report noted that Acosta still had “not initiated any contact with Special Agent MacAllister” 17 days after he was let loose.

In an interview with the ATF, Acosta admitted he knew “a lot about firearms” and conceded he was on his way to a birthday party for “Chendi,” a close associate to a Mexican cartel member and “right-hand man” to Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel.

However, the ATF knew more about Acosta than they learned from the interviews. Internal ATF documents indicate that Acosta was a primary target from the start, and a flow chart listed him at the top of over two dozen individuals who were involved in a targeted gun-smuggling ring. Acosta was paid from illicit drug sales to illegally acquire firearms for cartels.

The Los Angeles Times notes: “He carried a permanent U.S. resident card, a Social Security number and an Arizona driver’s license. He moved easily between homes in Mexico and Phoenix. Eventually arrested by U.S. marshals at a relative’s home in El Paso, he pleaded not guilty to gun-smuggling charges as one of 19 Fast and Furious defendants. None of the 19 has gone to trial.”

According to authorities, Acosta continued to cross the border and illegally purchase more U.S. weapons and finance others. He was finally arrested in February 2011, but by then the ATF had allowed over 2,000 weapons to “walk” into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Two of those guns ended up at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and many more turned up at crime scenes in Mexico.

When asked about Acosta, ATF chief spokesman Drew Wade said, “Due to the fact that the criminal case is still ongoing in the courts, and the inspector general’s office is still investigating, we cannot comment about this.”

One law enforcement source told CBS that the Acosta report was “completely embarrassing.” “He’s exporting ammunition, which is a violation of law,” the source said. “But they let him go.”

Law enforcement officials, speaking anonymously, told the Los Angeles Times it was a crucial blunder in a deeply flawed program. “I don’t know why they didn’t arrest him,” one official said. “They certainly could have.”

However, another law enforcement official argued agents may have seen Acosta as a possible way to get at the cartels. “He was cooperating and talking a lot and giving up a lot,” he said. “From an investigative standpoint, that’s pretty good information you’re getting. Maybe he can hook you into even bigger fish.”

Congressional Republicans investigating Fast and Furious wrote a letter to the DOJ asking why Acosta wasn’t arrested in May 2010 and why the DOJ failed to hand over the documents on Acosta’s detainment and release, which were subpoenaed.

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