Press Releases

Feb 26 2014

Crime Subcommittee to Examine Botched ATF Undercover Operation in Milwaukee

ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon to Testify

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday at 10:00 a.m., the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) use of storefront operations.  The hearing will focus on a botched undercover operation known as “Operation Fearless” by the ATF in Milwaukee and other recent stings in order to determine if these problems are systemic in ATF storefront operations. ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon will testify at tomorrow’s hearing. 

In January 2012, an ATF Violent Crime Impact Team opened a phony storefront named “Fearless Distributing” in a Milwaukee neighborhood, created a Facebook page, and attracted people to the property by selling clothes, shoes, and drug paraphernalia. Undercover ATF agents staffed the store and spread the word that they were willing to buy guns and drugs, as the goal of the operation was to bust criminal operations in the city by purchasing drugs and guns from felons. “Operation Fearless” was rife with blunders, including theft of an assault rifle and two handguns from the primary undercover agent’s government vehicle, the burglary of the undercover storefront, the recruitment by ATF agents of an allegedly brain-damaged man to coordinate gun deals, and an utter lack of management. Around the same time of this botched operation, similar problematic storefront undercover operations were being conducted in several other cities across the U.S. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) released the statements below on tomorrow’s hearing. 

Chairman Goodlatte: “Over a year has passed since the botched ATF undercover operation in Milwaukee and many questions still remain about this and similar stings across the country. Why does ATF continue to use large amounts of taxpayer dollars in buyback programs when the Inspector General has found these programs lack oversight and are not effective in reducing crime? In fact, these storefront operations have often increased crime in the very neighborhoods they were supposed to help.  The House Judiciary Committee hopes to get to the bottom of these lingering questions in order to increase transparency and accountability at ATF.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “We’ve come to learn, thanks in large part to diligent reporting by the Journal Sentinel, that the botched storefront operation in Milwaukee was not an isolated incident.  The ATF lacked proper oversight, acted recklessly and took advantage of the mentally handicapped.   Coming on the heels of Operation Fast and Furious, Congress continues to have serious concerns about the agency’s leadership.  I expect Deputy Director Brandon to be forthright regarding the agency’s activities.  I will continue to vigorously oversee the ATF until I am confident that the public knows the whole truth and that the agency’s mismanagement has been corrected.”

All House Judiciary Committee hearings are webcast live at www.judiciary.house.gov.  The hearing will take place in 2141 Rayburn.  For more information about Thursday’s hearing, click here.

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