Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents ignored gangsters trafficking guns until they murdered a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and seriously injured another, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.
ATF officers had numerous opportunities to arrest or at least interview the gun traffickers, and also had the chance to seize their weapons, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG). But agents did neither. (RELATED: Chaffetz Demands Answers On Secret ATF Cigarette Trafficking Ring)
Members of the Los Zetas drug trafficking organization attacked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents Victor Avila and Jaime Zapata in Mexico in February, 2011, killing Zapata. Otilio Osorio purchased one of the weapons used in Fort Worth, Texas, and Robert Riendfliesh purchased another in Beaumont, Texas. (RELATED: The ATF Is Illegally Hoarding American Gun Owners’ Personal Information)
“We also found that the ATF witnessed” Osorio and his brother, Ranferi, “complete a transfer of 40 firearms in November 2010,” Deputy Assistant IG Sean O’Neill said in a podcast. “After they saw that, we think the ATF clearly had probable cause to arrest” the brothers, and their cohort, Kelvin Morrison. “Yet, ATF did not make contact with any of them until after the attack on agents Avila and Zapata.”
The IG report added that, “Overall, we found numerous problems with ATF’s assimilation of information concerning the Osorio brothers and Morrison and the timeliness of ATF’s response to mounting evidence that they were committing firearms offenses.”
ATF agents also missed an opportunity to seize weapons found at a later crime scene.
“We identified one instance when ATF searched the Osorios’ residence in late February 2011 where we believe ATF had the legal authority to seize firearms they found, but did not do so,” O’Neill said. “Unfortunately, two of the firearms that were not seized ended up at a crime scene in Mexico.”
Additionally, Manuel Barba “led a ring of firearms straw purchasers called the ‘Baytown Crew,’” and “trafficked the Riendfliesh firearm to Mexico,” O’Neill said. The DEA previously arrested Barba for narcotics offenses, but he was released from federal custody in 2010.
The assistant U.S. attorney “should not have agreed to Barba’s release,” O’Neill said. “There were a couple of breakdowns that led to that release.”
Issues included a DEA agent not believing Barba’s claim that he had trafficked AK-47s. The IG also didn’t find evidence that the assistant U.S. attorney actually read the DEA report with Barba’s statements.
ATF agents arrested Otilio Osorio, Riendfliesh and their conspirators after the attack on ATF agents.
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