The Curious Case of the ATF Agent's Personal Gun that Ended Up in a Mexican Cartel Firefight
The ATF's Fast and Furious gunwalking operation began with a public statement on March 24, 2009 when Deputy Attorney General David Ogden announced "The president has directed us to take action to fight these cartels and Attorney General Eric Holder and I are taking several new and aggressive steps as part of the administration's comprehensive plan."
In September 2009, passage of the stimulus package sent money the ATF's way, and Project Gunrunner began that same month.
Project Gunrunner allowed thousands of firearms purchased in the United States to "walk" across the border into Mexico. The operation was run out of the Phoenix, Arizona ATF office. Guns involved in the operation have turned up at scores of crime scenes in Mexico and have been implicated in the deaths of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 and ICE Agent Jaime Zapata in February 2011.
On January 7, 2010, George Gillett, the second in command at the ATF office at the time, purchased a FN Five-Seven semiautomatic pistol at Legendary Arms in Phoenix (Fox reports it as Legendary Arms, but only Legendary Guns shows up in an Internet search). The pistols typically retail for about $1000 to $1200. Due to his position within the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Gillett must have had extensive personal knowledge of Project Gunrunner. He must also have had extensive personal knowledge of the ATF's regulations concerning gun purchases as spelled out in the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Law of 1993. Knowing the rules was part of his job. Today, he works in the Washington, DC headquarters of the ATF, according to Fox.
The Brady Law requires that prospective gun purchasers must fill out ATF Form 4473, which you can see here. Form 4473 requires that gun purchasers attest to the accuracy of the information they present on the form, and spells out that any failure to complete the form accurately is a "crime punishable as a felony under Federal law" and may also violate state law. It also spells out that it is illegal to purchase firearms for the purpose of selling them "for livelihood and profit" without a federal firearms license.
In Gillett's case, his 4473 would have been checked at Legendary Arms. He is apparently the FN Five-Seven's original purchaser. Personnel at the store would have been required to verify that Gillett's information on his 4473 matched the identification he presented, which is typically his drivers license or other state-issued ID.
According to Fox's report, Gillett presented false information on his 4473 at least two times including the purchase of the FN pistol:
Gillett purchased the weapon at Legendary Arms, a Phoenix gun store. On the federal form 4473 used to buy the gun, Gillett used the ATF office address, 201 East Washington, and said "Apt 940." On subsequent purchase, Gillett used a commercial address, that of a strip mall.
Gillett made this particular purchase on January 7, 2010, about four months into Project Gunrunner. Why would he knowingly present false information, and why was it not caught by the gun store?
It should have been. Gun sellers are required to inspect Form 4473s and verify the accuracy of the information on them by matching the information there to the identification presented, before calling the National Instant Criminal Background Search (NICS) to verify whether a purchaser has a criminal record that requires that the purchase either be delayed or stopped altogether. Gun sellers can lose their licenses and face arrest for serious or systemic problems with the forms they accept from gun purchasers. Gillett may have presented his ATF badge as ID, but he knew that the two addresses he presented were not his personal residence address as required in box 2 on the 4473 form. Store personnel may have known that the address he presented in the FN purchase was in fact the ATF's Phoenix office address. A conscientious seller could have determined that the other address Gillett gave in his later purchase was that of a strip mall with a quick Internet search.
Sometime after he bought the gun, Gillett allowed it to leave his possession. Gillett claims that he later sold the gun on the Internet. There should be an electronic trail of the sale if it took place, emails, bank fund transfers, and so forth. But it's a curious coincidence, at the very least, that the very same gun he purchased just a few months into Project Gunrunner ended up involved in a Mexican drug cartel firefight with the Mexican army less than two years after Gillett bought the gun. Another gun at the scene was traced to Gillett's prime Fast and Furious target, Uriel Patino. What are the odds of that?
This episode raises a number of troubling questions. Perhaps some informed readers here at PJM can shed some light on some of them, or other facts that may relate.
1. How did Gillett's use of the ATF's local address on his Form 4473 get by the gun store personnel?
2. Did Gillett use his authority as the ATF's local second in command to make sure his false information did not create problems in the purchase?
3. Why did he use false information, twice, in the first place? He must have known what the serious consequences both to himself and the store could potentially be.
4. To whom did he sell the gun, and when, and for what price? Can he present any evidence of the sale taking place as he describes?
5. Was there a gun running operation involving the ATF going on in parallel or in addition to the acknowledge operations collectively known as Fast and Furious?
Sen. Chuck Grassley is calling on the ATF to provide some answers in the Gillett case, and he is right to do so. Gillett's gun turning up at a firefight in Mexico involving a drug cartel is one of the stranger side stories connected to Fast and Furious.