2nd Arizona crime scene yields guns from ATF sting

PHOENIX (AP) — Guns tied to a botched federal weapons-smuggling investigation have been recovered at a second Arizona crime scene, according to federal and state authorities.

The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/oB98j1) reported Saturday that two guns were found in the back of a stolen car in Maricopa last year that had rammed two Arizona Department of Public Safety vehicles.

Federal agents contacted the DPS this week and said a trace of the guns revealed they were part of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting in 2009 that inadvertently put hundreds of weapons bought at Arizona gun stores into the hands of Mexican criminals.

The probe was known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Two guns also were recovered at a December shootout in Rio Rico, where a Border Patrol agent was fatally shot.

A congressional investigation of the program has turned up evidence that ATF lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked to the operation. Attorney General Eric Holder requested the inquiry now being conducted by the Inspector General’s office at the Justice Department.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has asked the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for a hearing as soon as possible on Operation Fast and Furious.

McCain, a member of the committee, wrote in a letter that the panel must “ensure further damage from this operation does not persist.”

According to an investigative report compiled for two congressional committees investigating the operation, 122 weapons have been recovered at 48 crime scenes in Mexico.

In addition, an unspecified number of weapons tied to Fast and Furious were recovered earlier this year when Mexican authorities raided a compound in Michoacan state to arrest members of La Familia cartel.

The joint report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary also details how guns from the ATF operation were used in the kidnapping and murder of a Mexican official’s brother.

It is unclear how many guns from Arizona made it to Mexico. Operation Fast and Furious was part of a multiagency federal drug-enforcement task force to trace weapon sales made to straw buyers working for Mexican cartels.

Three Phoenix ATF agents told Congress that instead of interdicting the straw buyers, they were ordered to monitor sales and track the weapons up the cartel-leadership chain.

Agents said that as many as 1,800 guns were sold and as many as two-thirds were smuggled into Mexico after they lost track of them. The goal of the operation was to use wiretaps on the straw buyers to snare high-ranking cartel members.

Arizona DPS officials said the Maricopa incident took place in March 2010 when officers with the Motor Vehicle Theft Task Force attempted to stop a truck with two Mexican citizens inside.

The driver refused to stop, and officers used their vehicles to block the road. Inside the car, officers recovered a pistol and an AK-47-type rifle.

“It was found, after the fact, that the guns were part of Operation Fast and Furious,” said DPS spokesman Bart Graves, adding that the weapons had little to do with the actual incident.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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