Aug 6, 2012 Comments Off Pat Dollard
(EL PASO TIMES) A weapon tied to “Operation Fast and Furious” was seized in Tijuana in connection with a drug cartel’s conspiracy to kill the police chief of Tijuana, Baja California, who later became the Juárez police chief, according to a U.S. government report.
The firearm was found Feb. 25, 2010, during an arrest of a criminal cell associated with Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental and Raydel “El Muletas” López Uriarte, allies of the Sinaloa cartel.
Tijuana police said they arrested four suspects in March 2010 in connection with a failed attempt to take out Julián Leyzaola, and that the suspects allegedly confessed to conspiring to assassinate the police chief on orders from Tijuana cartel leaders.
The suspects had an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, and one of the firearms traced back to the operation that the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) was monitoring from its field office in Phoenix.
Adrian Sanchez, spokesman for Leyzaola, said Leyzaola was unavailable for comment.
Leyzaola, a retired Mexican army officer, reportedly survived several attempts on his life while trying to bring order to Tijuana, a city torn apart by turf battles following the arrests and deaths of Arellano Felix cartel leaders.
A native of Sinaloa, Culiacán, Leyzaola became the Juárez police chief in March 2011, where brutal battles by competing cartels have claimed more than 10,000 lives.
On July 31, the U.S. House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee released a 2,359-page report titled “Fast and Furious: The Anatomy of a Failed Operation,” based on numerous interviews from hearings, and reviews of more than 10,000 pages of documents.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley led the investigation into the ATF’s operation that ended abruptly after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in December 2010, and two weapons traced to Fast and Furious were found near Terry’s body in the Arizona desert.
Officials said bandits preying on immigrant and drug smugglers fired on Terry, who first shot at the bandits with only bean bags.
The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General plans to issue a separate report within weeks on Fast and Furious.
In addition to Terry and Leyzaola, Fast and Furious-traced weapons also were connected to a drug cartel cell in Chihuahua state that kidnapped and murdered the brother of ex-Chihuahua Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez, as well as to crime scenes in Juárez and other places in Mexico.
Under the ATF operation, about 2,000 firearms purchased at U.S. stores by straw buyers were allowed to walk across the border. The ATF’s goal was to dismantle an arms-trafficking network by identifying and arresting its leaders.
Hundreds of the operation-monitored firearms are unaccounted for, and legislative investigators speculate that more people could be killed on either side of the border with these weapons.
According to the U.S. joint report, at one point the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and ATF were investigating some of the same targets that the ATF was after, but failed to coordinate their efforts so that the ATF could end Fast and Furious before Terry and others were killed.
“We know the DEA was actively giving information to the ATF, but the ATF dropped the ball,” Grassley and Issa said in a statement.
The report said that “Shortly after the (ATF’s) case began, in December 2009, DEA supplied ATF with extensive information on what would become the ATF’s prime target. At that point, ATF should have shut Fast and Furious down, but it failed to recognize that significance of the information the DEA had shared.”
A year before Terry was killed, the information the DEA had was sufficient to make arrests of the same targets, the report said.
“Both the FBI and DEA had key information,” the report said.
A key arms-trafficker that the ATF was after was detained three times by law enforcement, and was set free each time, reportedly after promising different U.S. federal agents that he would provide them with useful intelligence about the drug cartels.
The same target admitted to U.S. law enforcement later that he was trying to start his own drug-trafficking organization.
The U.S. joint report also said that DEA had provided the ATF with information on Dec. 21, 2009, about a shipment of 32 weapons that suspects obtained in Arizona and planned to transport to El Paso and possibly on to Juárez.
“(U.S. law enforcement) Group VII could have at least tried to intercept the firearms transfer through El Paso, as well as connect the trafficking with evidence of intent from the DEA wire,” the report said. “Yet Group VII apparently failed to act on these more specific (wiretap) intercepts.”
Last month, “Proceso,” Mexico’s national investigative magazine, reported that a Mexican lawyer and law experts in the United States are preparing a lawsuit against the ATF over Fast and Furious. Such a lawsuit has not been filed yet.
The U.S. Attorney General’s Office said it does not plan to disclose any more documents related to the ATF’s operation because doing so might jeopardize ongoing investigations.
Operation Fast and Furious came into public view after ATF whistleblowers disclosed details about the gunwalking operation.