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Sting Operation in Milwaukee Goes Bad
By Harold Hutchison

A string operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive (BATFE) became a fiasco when burglars broke into the building being used for the sting. After about $35,000 worth of merchandise was stolen from the fake store, the operation was shut down, and ATF is in a battle with the owner of the building.

The sting operation began in January, 2012, as an effort to get criminals to sell guns and drugs to undercover ATF agents. Under 18 USC 922, it is illegal for any felon or drug user to possess a firearm, and they face a ten-year prison sentence if convicted on those charges. The operation had some success, recovering three sawed-off shotguns, ten stolen firearms (under 18 USC 924, possession of a stolen firearm is a federal offense that carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison), and eight firearms with serial numbers that had been obliterated (a federal offense which can land a person in federal prison for up to five years). The ATF sting also is claimed to have resulted in four people being charged as “armed career criminals” – a 1984 provision that provides a minimum sentence of 15 years in a federal prison.

However, the ATF operation fell apart after two incidents. On 13 September, 2012, a sport-utility vehicle was broken into, and three firearms were stolen, including a M4 carbine capable of full-auto firing. One of the guns was later sold back to ATF by a 19-year-old. The other two guns have not been recovered. On 9 October of that same year, the store ATF was using was burglarized, and thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was stolen.

The next month, ATF then carried out arrests, but in at least three cases, the agency arrested and charged the wrong people. When ATF closed their operation, they left about $15,000 worth of damage in the building, as well as unpaid utility bills. The owner has been trying to collect, but ATF has refused, and has demanded return of the security deposit, even threatening him with prosecution.

“If you continue to contact the Agents after being so advised your contacts may be construed as harassment under the law. Threats or harassment of a Federal Agent is of grave concern. Utilizing the telephone or a computer to perpetrate threats or harassment is also a serious matter,” an ATF attorney named Patricia Cangemi wrote.