Later On

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A.T.F. Filled Secret Bank Account With Millions From Shadowy Cigarette Sales

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The ATF seems to need some serious fixing. Recall Operation Fast and Furious and how that fell apart. And now Matt Apuzzo reports in the NY Times:

Working from an office suite behind a Burger King in southern Virginia, operatives used a web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account. They weren’t known smugglers, but rather agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The operation, not authorized under Justice Department rules, gave agents an off-the-books way to finance undercover investigations and pay informants without the usual cumbersome paperwork and close oversight, according to court records and people close to the operation.

The secret account is at the heart of a federal racketeering lawsuit brought by a collective of tobacco farmers who say they were swindled out of $24 million. A pair of A.T.F. informants received at least $1 million each from that sum, records show.

The scheme relied on phony shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco. The agents were experts: Their job was to catch cigarette smugglers, so they knew exactly how it was done.

Government records and interviews with people involved reveal an operation that existed on a murky frontier — between investigating smuggling and being complicit in it. After The New York Times began asking about the operation last summer, the Justice Department disclosed it to the department’s inspector general’s office, which is investigating. The inspector general “expressed serious concerns,” court records show.

It is unclear how broadly the A.T.F. adopted this practice, at what level it was approved, and whether it continues. Nearly all references to the A.T.F. have been blacked out of public court records, and most documents are entirely sealed.

The investigation and the looming racketeering trial will bring renewed scrutiny to the A.T.F., which has been buffeted in recent years by the botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious and its mismanagement of undercover investigations. Members of Congress, particularly Republicans, have heaped criticism on the agency for decades, and the National Rifle Association has lobbied to limit the agency’s authority and funding.

While government auditors have previously cited problems with A.T.F.’s tobacco investigations, this operation went beyond what was identified in that audit, released in 2013. The A.T.F. and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Documents in the racketeering lawsuit outline the A.T.F. operation. The tobacco cooperative is suing a former employee and a consultant who, according to court documents, both worked as A.T.F. informants. The informants have denied all wrongdoing. . .

Continue reading.

The ATF seems to have become corrupted to an amazing degree. The refusal to comment is particularly troubling, since that suggests that neither the ATF nor the Justice Department want the public to know what is happening, and that desire to keep things secret usually has a base motivation.

Note this from the story:

Since last summer, The Times has fought to make all the documents public, but the Justice Department has argued successfully in court to keep them secret. Crucial details, however, have been revealed through poor redaction, documents that were filed publicly by mistake and the sheer difficulty of keeping so much a secret for so long.

Do read the whole thing. When the government is running a criminal enterprise it’s a sign that things are starting to break down quite badly.


Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2017 at 12:46 pm

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