If you thought the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) couldn't stoop any lower, you'd be wrong. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the agency responsible for setting off the events that led to Waco and were at the center of the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal are using mentally disabled teenagers to advertise businessess that are actually fronts for ATF sting operations.
The Journal Sentinel's expose leads with the tale of Aaron Key, a 19-year-old stoner whose mind is not quite all there. The ower of a head shop in Portland, Oregon, befriended Key and his friends online and then paid them to get neck tattoos advertising "Squid's Smoke Shop."
He and his friend, Marquis Glover, liked Squid's. It was their hangout. The 19-year-olds spent many afternoons there playing Xbox and chatting with the owner, "Squid," and the store clerks.
So they took the money and got the ink etched on their necks, tentacles creeping down to their collarbones.
It would be months before the young men learned the whole thing was a setup. The guys running Squid's were actually undercover ATF agents conducting a sting to get guns away from criminals and drugs off the street.
The tattoos had been sponsored by the U.S. government; advertisements for a fake storefront.
The teens found out as they were arrested and booked into jail.
Earlier this year, when the Journal Sentinel reported on an ATF sting operation in Milwaukee involving a "low IQ" informant, authorities wrote it off as an isolated act of rogue agents. The Journal Sentinel documents at least half-a-dozen stings from around the country that use the same "rogue" tactics of creating fake storefronts and using low IQ people to set stings in cities such as Pensacola, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Wichita, Kansas.
"There is enough crime out there, why do you have to manufacture it?" said Jeff Griffith, a lawyer for a defendant in Wichita. "You are really creating crime, which then you are prosecuting. You wonder where the moral high ground is in this."
Apart from the moral issues (which are huge enough), there's a question of whether such operations are worth a damn in terms of serious collars:
In Albuquerque, for example, a man who was twice indicted on first-degree murder charges, once for killing a man in prison, was later busted in a storefront sting for being a felon in possession of weapon.
But in many cases examined by the Journal Sentinel, the people charged in the stings had minor criminal histories or nonviolent convictions such as burglary or drug possession.
In several of those cases, defendants still got stiff sentences, but others resulted in little or no punishment. In Wichita, nearly a third of the roughly 50 federal cases charged led to no prison time. Defendants got probation or had their case dismissed, records showed. One was acquitted by a jury.
Not the results federal agents typically trumpet.
In the case of Aaron Key and Marquis Glover, the judge handling the cases was puzzled over the ATF's decision to cajole the teens (who were ultimately convicted of crimes that were enabled by the government) into getting tattoos.
In federal court, a prosecutor who handled several of the ATF cases, including Key's, tried to explain to a judge why the agents employed the tactic.
The agents said they thought Key and Glover were testing them to see if they were law enforcement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin said in a January 2012 sentencing hearing.
Key and Glover supposedly did this by suggesting they all smoke marijuana.
Kerin said the agents then proposed Key and Glover get tattoos as a way to get them off their trail.
The explanation didn't make sense to U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman, a former federal prosecutor.
"I guess I don't make the connection," Mosman said. "They're concerned that if, among other things, they don't smoke marijuana with this guy that they'll be given up as law enforcement, so they think a way to derail that is to suggest that he get a tattoo?"
Kerin tried again to explain.
"Mr. Key and Mr. Glover were trying to identify them as law enforcement or possibly testing to determine if they were law enforcement."
The judge cut in: "I think I understand that part. I just don't understand why you put someone off your trail by suggesting they get a tattoo. How does that help?"
The judge ordered the ATF to pay for the removal of Key's tattoo.
Read the whole story, which details both how the ATF sets up fake businessess and the paltry results such efforts get in terms of doing anything about fighting criminal activity. And then ask yourself (and maybe your law enforcement and political representatives) just how bad does the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have to be before it's finally disbanded?
For more Reason on ATF failings, click here.
Reminder: Gallup finds a record-high percentage of Americans (60 percent), especially those who identify as political independents (65 percent), think the government has too much power. Any questions?
Back in October, Reason TV reported on how Riverside County, California cops tricked an autistic kid into selling pot as part of a sting operation.