Fast and Furious: Gun-sting targets were FBI informers
ATF's cartel suspects worked for other agency
y Dennis Wagner - Feb. 9, 2012 11:07 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Mexican cartel suspects targeted in the troubled gun-trafficking
probe known as Operation Fast and Furious were actually working as
FBI informants at the time, according to a congressional memo that
describes the case's mission as a "failure."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has
acknowledged that guns were allowed into the hands of Mexican
criminals for more than a year in the hope of catching "big fish."
The memorandum from staffers with the House Committee on Oversight
and Government Reform says the FBI and Drug Enforcement
Administration were investigating a drug-trafficking organization and
had identified cartel associates a year before the ATF even learned
who they were. At some point before the ATF's Fast and Furious
investigation progressed -- congressional investigators don't know
when -- the cartel members became FBI informants.
"These were the 'big fish,' " says the memo, written on behalf of
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "DEA
and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had jointly opened a
separate investigation targeting these two cartel associates. ...
Yet, ATF spent the next year engaging in the reckless tactics of Fast
and Furious in attempting to identify them."
According to Issa and Grassley, the cartel suspects, whose names were
not released, were regarded by FBI as "national-security assets." One
pleaded guilty to a minor offense. The other was not charged. "Both
became FBI informants and are now considered unindictable," the memo
says. "This means that the entire goal of Fast and Furious -- to
target these two individuals and bring them to justice -- was a
Representatives with the Justice Department and its subagencies
declined to comment.
In a statement e-mailed to The Republic, Rep. Elijah Cummings of
Maryland, ranking Democrat on the Oversight committee, disputed GOP
conclusions and stressed that Issa "has repeatedly made
unsubstantiated allegations against law- enforcement agencies" while
investigating Fast and Furious. Cummings agreed that the ATF was
hampered by communication breakdowns, but he rejected implications
that other agencies had similar failures.
Fast and Furious was launched by the ATF in November 2009. At the
same time, the memo says, FBI and DEA agents who were conducting a
narcotics investigation identified a suspected ringleader of the gun-
trafficking organization, Manuel Celis-Acosta. According to federal
records, DEA supervisors shared their discovery with ATF agents, but
the suspect was not arrested until a year later, when guns from Fast
and Furious were linked to the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent
At that point, the memo says, Celis-Acosta gave names of his Sinaloa
cartel associates to ATF agents, who learned that they already were
working for the FBI. The associates are not identified in the
The overlap reflects the spiderweb nature of trafficking
organizations in Arizona and the labyrinth of law-enforcement
agencies pursuing them.
Celis-Acosta was indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2011
with 19 other suspects on charges related to firearms and marijuana
trafficking, conspiracy and money laundering. He is awaiting trial in
U.S. District Court.
According to federal prosecutors, Celis-Acosta's gun-trafficking
business became involved with a man named Luis Hernandez-Flores,
allegedly part of a separate marijuana-smuggling organization in the
Valley. The DEA, working in a task force with Glendale and Phoenix
police, set up wiretap surveillance to gather evidence against
Hernandez- Flores and others.
In federal filings, prosecutors say Celis-Acosta identified
Hernandez- Flores as an illegal-firearms broker for the Mexican
In March 2010, Hernandez-Flores and more than 40 other suspects were
indicted by a state grand jury. Charges were thrown out in June 2011,
according to Maricopa County Superior Court records, because a
Glendale detective supplied false information for a wiretap affidavit.
A judge ruled that the detective, Laura Beeler, was "not a reliable
witness." Beeler was investigated for alleged perjury but not
charged. Prosecutors and Beeler's attorney said the problem arose
from her attempts to shield a confidential informant.
The Republican memo does not address previous ATF assertions that the
Phoenix-based investigation was aimed at drug lords south of the border.
For example, on Feb. 3, Mexican federal police reportedly seized
several weapons from Fast and Furious during the arrest of Jose
Antonio Torres Marrufo, under U.S. indictment and suspected of being
a top enforcer for Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "Chapo" Guzaman. The
Los Angeles Times reported last year that 40 other high-powered
weapons from the case were found at Marrufo's unoccupied home in Juarez.
The Republican staff analysis purportedly is based on investigative
records and interviews with personnel at federal law-enforcement
agencies. Investigative documents and transcripts were not made
Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, which is leading a congressional probe of Fast and
Furious. Grassley is ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In their memo to GOP colleagues, they conclude that Fast and Furious
was not only flawed strategically, but undermined by law-enforcement
negligence, communication breakdowns and "serious management failures."
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