If you’re a fan of “dumb cop” stories, this week’s This American Life is a doozy. It details an ATF “store front” sting operation so comically inept that not even the master of dumb cop stories Elmore Leonard could’ve written it.
It was called Operation Fearless, and the idea behind it was that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms would set up fake pawn shops and store fronts “near gang areas” that would lure criminals into trying to sell them illegal guns. Whereupon the feds would arrest the criminals, get the guns off the street, and maybe even tie the guns to various crimes, presumably while beer rained from the sky and hot babes threw their panties at the agents. It doesn’t sound so terrible in theory, but in practice, the operation was so poorly carried out that in many areas, it actually increased crime, because the store fronts were paying such inflated prices for guns, people who’d never done so before started stealing guns to fence. In at least one case, a man bought a gun at a gun store and then sold it to one of the ATF’s fake store fronts the next day and earned a profit.
Oh, and then there’s The Expendables angle. In the This American Life segment (which perfectly sums up my love-hate relationship with This American Life by being called “WTF, ATF”), they profile the landlord and some neighbors of a front operation in Milwaukee called “Fearless Distributing.” The ATF’s idea there being that they would pose as a biker gang selling stolen clothing, leave gun magazines and pamphlets everywhere, and then soak up all the criminals that flocked to them like moths to a jar of honey (an old ATF simile).
The operation created a Facebook page [now defunct, as far as I can tell, sadly] and chose a striking logo – a skull with a slew of guns and knives fanned out behind – ripped off from a recent Sylvester Stallone movie, “The Expendables.” The store didn’t say it was in the gun business but the logo suggested that.
Agents “let it be known” they were willing to buy guns and drugs, according to documents from the circuit court charges. The records don’t say how they did that, but agents had business cards with the Fearless logo and the words “Buy, sell, or trade.” The cards were found by the landlord after agents left. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
The ever-so-subtle logo, which you can see here underneath the original Olde English back tattoo font, was modeled on this:
Agents attracted juveniles with free video games and alcohol. In one case, the agency paid two informants, one mentally deficient, to get tattoos on their neck of a squid smoking a joint to promote the store. Taxpayers later paid to remove the tattoos. [FoxNews]
In another case, ATF agents stored guns in an SUV that was subsequently broken into, with the perps making off with a fully automatic M-4, and a couple other handguns, including a .40 caliber Sig Sauer that they then sold back to the ATF for $1,400. They were apparently so easy to steal from that at one point thieves just drove a rented U-Haul right up to the door of the storefront. Resulting in…
…the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
Though as it turned out, the monetary damages weren’t the worst of it.
When the 10-month operation was shut down after the burglary, agents and Milwaukee police officers who participated in the sting cleared out the store but left behind a sensitive document that listed names, vehicles and phone numbers of undercover agents. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
You can read the rest of the Journal-Sentinel‘s report here, and hear more on This American Life, which I would urge you to do, as it puts any “cops behaving badly” movie to shame, and joins the all-time pantheon of people being terrible at their jobs. The ATF really managed to screw up everything they touched short of someone accidentally blowing his dick off. It makes The Expendables 3′s PG-13 rating seem brilliant by comparison.