Chief Suspect of ‘Fast and Furious’ Probe Released Not Once But Twice

Manuel Celis-Acosta, the chief suspect in the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” investigation was not only caught and released at the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2010, but also two months earlier while in possession of a Colt .38-caliber pistol purchased illegally via the gun-tracking operation.

Officials could have brought about a swift end to the “Fast and Furious” operation. Twice they declined to take action on opportunities to charge Celis-Acosta with felony offenses, instead the investigation dragged on for months, with the loss of about 1,700 U.S. firearms on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., two top congressional investigators demanded answers as to why Celis-Acosta was twice permitted to dodge arrest. It was sent by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Fast and Furious was launched Oct. 31, 2009, and ran up until a month after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in December 2010. Two assault weapons linked to the “Fast and Furious” op were recovered after his slaying near the border.

The congressional leaders said they learned of the gun arrest from a list of “Overt Acts” of gun-smuggling suspects that was compiled by an ATF official during Fast and Furious.

“On April 2, 2010,” states one notation on the list, “a firearm purchased by Patino on March 26, 2010, was recovered by law enforcement officials and was possessed by Celis-Acosta.” The item gave no further information about the incident.

By March 26, 2010, Patino had allegedly illegally purchased at least 434 weapons under Fast and Furious from cooperating gun dealers in the Phoenix area. The ATF says he eventually purchased a total of 720 weapons, more than any other person who illegally purchased weapons in the program.

Two months later, on May 29, 2010, Celis-Acosta was again stopped and questioned in Lukeville, Ariz., by the top ATF agent working the Fast and Furious investigation. He was driving a BMW with 74 live rounds of ammunition and nine cellphones allegedly hidden inside. ATF Special Agent Hope MacAllister released him after he promised to cooperate in her investigation.

Patino and Celis-Acosta are among 19 people indicted in January 2010 in Fast and Furious. Both have pleaded not guilty.

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