Investigators Find Five Senior ATF Officials Responsible For Fast And Furious

Republican congressional investigators have concluded that five top ATF officials are collectively responsible for the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation that has being described as being “marred by missteps, poor judgments and inherently reckless strategy.”

The investigators discovered new evidence that agents from the Phoenix Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sought to hide from the Mexican government the fact that two Fast and Furious firearms were recovered after the murder of the brother of a Mexican state attorney general.

The report alleges that there was some Justice Department involvement, notably that Kenneth E. Melson, then acting ATF director, was made into a “scapegoat” for Fast and Furious after he told congressional Republicans that his Justice Department supervisors  “were doing more damage control than anything” else once Fast and Furious became public.

“My view is that the whole matter of the department’s response in this case was a disaster,” Melson told the investigators.

The Fast and Furious program allowed some 2,500 illegal gun sales in Arizona which agents planned to track back to Mexican drug cartels. The program began in fall 2009 and was halted after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010. Most of the weapons had been lost by then, and two were recovered at the scene of his slaying.

The five ATF managers that the report lays the blame on, have since moved to other positions, and have either defended Fast and Furious in congressional testimony or refused to discuss it. At the Justice Department, senior officials, including Holder, have steadfastly maintained that Fast and Furious was confined to the Arizona border region and that Washington was never aware of the flawed tactics.

The joint staff report, authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was highly critical of the ATF supervisors.

They found that William Newell, the special agent-in-charge in Phoenix, exhibited “repeatedly risky” management and “consistently pushed the envelope of permissible investigative techniques.” The report said “he had been reprimanded … before for crossing the line, but under a new administration and a new attorney general he reverted back to the use of risky gunwalking tactics.”

His boss, Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, “rubber stamped critical documents that came across his desk without reading them,” the report alleged. “In McMahon’s view it was not his job to ask any questions about what was going on in the field.” and that McMahon gave “false testimony” to Congress about signing applications for wiretap intercepts in Fast and Furious.

His supervisor, Mark Chait, assistant director for field operations, “played a surprisingly passive role during the operation,” the report said. “He failed to provide oversight that his experience should have dictated and his position required.”

Above Chait was Deputy Director William Hoover, who the report said ordered an exit strategy to scuttle Fast and Furious but never followed through: “Hoover was derelict in his duty to ensure that public safety was not jeopardized.”

They said Melson, a longtime career Justice official, “often stayed above the fray” instead of bringing Fast and Furious to an “end sooner.”

ATF agents say that they were hamstrung by federal prosecutors in Arizona from  obtaining criminal charges for illegal gun sales, and that Melson “even offered to travel to Phoenix to write the indictments himself. Still, he never ordered it be shut down.”

In the November 2010 slaying in Mexico of Mario Gonzalez, the brother of Patricia Gonzalez, then attorney general for the state of Chihuahua, two of 16 weapons were traced back to Fast and Furious after they were recovered from a shootout with Mexican police. 10 days later, ATF Agent Tonya English urged Agent Hope MacAllister and their supervisor, David J. Voth, to keep it under wraps. “My thought is not to release any information,” she told them in an email.

The following month, Agent Terry was killed south of Tucson. Voth emailed back, “Ugh … things will most likely get ugly.”

U.S. Agents Laundering Mexican Drug Cartel Profits

According to current and former federal law enforcement officials undercover American narcotics agents have laundered millions of dollars in Mexican drug cartel money.

Agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Agency, have helped ship hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, in an attempt to figure out how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and who their leaders are. The money is deposited in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents. As it launders the drug proceeds, the D.E.A. often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests. Questions are obviously being raised about the agency’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) in bringing down drug kingpins and the whether these actions constitute facilitation of a crime.

Michael S. Vigil, a former senior agency official who is currently working for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel, said, “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”

Another former agency official, who asked not to be identified speaking publicly about delicate operations, said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”

Concerns are warranted especially in light of the A.T.F’s operation Fast and Furious in which low-level smugglers were allowed to buy and transport guns across the border in the hope that they would lead to higher-level operatives working for Mexican cartels. After the agency lost track of hundreds of weapons, some later turned up in Mexico; two were found on the United States side of the border where an American Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

Another former drug agency official offered this explanation for the laundering operations: “Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel’s command and control, is a very time consuming process. These people aren’t running a drugstore in downtown L.A. that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can’t even go into.”

One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”

“If you’re going to get into the business of laundering money,” the official added, “then you have to be able to launder money.”

Former counternarcotics officials, who also would speak only on the condition of anonymity offered a clearer glimpse into the scale of these operations and how they worked. In some cases, the officials said, Mexican agents, posing as smugglers and accompanied by American authorities, pick up traffickers’ cash in Mexico. American agents then transport the cash on government flights to the United States, where it is deposited into traffickers’ accounts, and then wired to companies that provide goods and services to the cartel.

In other cases, D.E.A. agents, posing as launderers, pick up drug proceeds in the United States, deposit them in banks in this country and then wire them to the traffickers in Mexico.

So far there are few signs that these laundering operations have disrupted the cartels’ operations, as well as little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a minute fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Border Agent’s Death tied to ATF operation “Fast and Furious”

The murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Mexico last year has been linked to an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) operation that allegedly allowed hundreds of guns to flow into Mexico across the U.S. border.

Investigators at the ATF called the operation in which agents would follow the guns from the U.S. into the hands of Mexican drug cartels “Fast and Furious”. Members of Congress say that weapons found at the scene of  Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s death have been traced to the federal program.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the ATF, tried to explain what he knew about the episode at two hearings on Capitol Hill.

“You have to understand the way in which the department operates,” Holder said. “Although there are [a lot of] operations, this one … has gotten a great deal of publicity.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) interrupted Holder, saying that “There are dead Americans as a result of this failed and reckless program, so I would say that it hasn’t gotten enough attention,”. Issa leads the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,  and is trying to figure out how the gun-running investigation went off track and whether top Justice Department leaders approved it in advance.

Congressional investigators traveled to Arizona, where people allegedly working with drug gangs illegally purchased more than 1,000 guns. Many of those guns were later found at crime scenes on both sides of the border.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said “At best, the ATF was careless in authorizing the sale of thousands of guns to straw purchasers,” and “At worst, our own government knowingly participated in arming criminals, drug cartels and those who later killed federal agents.”

Congressional Republicans say that over a dozen whistleblowers have come forward with concerns about Operation Fast and Furious, including ATF agents, supervisors, and  an Arizona gun dealer.

The unnamed dealer sent e-mails to agents in Arizona last year, six months before Terry’s death, warning them that he had a bad feeling. The dealer said he was worried the guns would make their way to Mexico and be used by “bad guys.”

Wachovia Bank and the Mexican drug cartels they laundered money for…

Need another reason to hate banks? Another reason besides the role they played in the housing collapse, the poisoning of the world economy with toxic assets, the 700 billion dollar taxpayer funded bailout they extorted from the Fed or the 10s of millions of dollars in bonuses awarded to CEOs with our money? Well, if those reasons aren’t enough, how about laundering money for Mexican drug cartels?

During a 22 month investigation conducted by the DEA, IRS and other government agencies it was uncovered that Wachovia Bank had been laundering money for drug cartels. In 2006 a jet owned by the Sinaloa cartel was confiscated containing one million dollars worth of cocaine. The jet was eventually found out to have been bought with money laundered by Wachovia. As far back as 2004 billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveler’s checks and cash shipments were deposited in Wachovia accounts here in the U.S. through Mexican exchanges.

Wachovia had criminal proceedings brought against them but the case never went to trail. In March 2010, Wachovia paid federal authorities $110 million in forfeiture for allowing transactions that were proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and got slapped with a meager $50 million dollar fine for failing to monitor money that was used to ship 22 tons of cocaine. They were also given “deferred prosecution” which basically means if the bank abides by the law for a year, charges are dropped. Keep in mind that the total fine was less than 2% of the their $12.3 billion profit for 2009.

According to court documents “Through CDCs (casa de cambia) persons in Mexico can use hard currency and wire transfer the value of that currency to U.S. bank accounts to purchase items in the United States or other countries. The nature of the CDC business allows money launderers the opportunity to move drug dollars that are in Mexico into CDCs and ultimately into the US banking system. On numerous occasions, monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug-trafficking organization. Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug-trafficking organizations.” The documents also state that from 2004 through 2007, Wachovia processed at least $373.6 billion in CDCs and $4.7 billion in bulk cash for a total of more than $378.3 billion dollars.

Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo during the 2008 economic crash, at the same time Wells Fargo was being handed $25 billion in taxpayers’ bailout money. The “deferred prosecution” part of Wachovia’s settlement was up this past March leaving the bank free and in the clear.

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