Wis. agent: Colleagues improperly modified guns

Scales of justice
WLUK file photo.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A former state Department of Justice drug agent accused his colleagues last year of illegally modifying their state-issued rifles, according to emails the agency released Thursday.

The Associated Press obtained the emails through an open records request for materials related to former Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Dan Bethards. DOJ fired Bethards in October after he accused his supervisor of weapons violations.

Bethards wrote in a January 2013 email to DCI Administrator Dave Matthews that multiple agents were shortening the barrels on their state-issued and personal rifles without registering the modifications with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Bethards didn’t name any agents but alleged multiple agents were guilty of federal felonies.

DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the ATF investigated the allegations and determined one weapon had been improperly modified. The gun was reconfigured to conform with ATF regulations and no one was disciplined, she said.

“The facts in this matter convinced us (the) agent had acted in ‘good faith’ and inadvertently violated compliance regulations,” Brueck said. “We brought the matter to the ATF’s attention, and it was immediately remedied.”

DOJ officials also told the agency’s firearms instructor and SWAT team leaders to be certain that weapon changes comply with federal regulations and to consult with ATF on modifications, Brueck said.

Bethards said in a text to the AP that he was surprised ATF let the violation go without charges.

“I wonder if Joe Citizen would get that same opportunity?” he wrote.

ATF spokesman Robert Schmidt didn’t immediately return messages.

In December 2012, Bethards accused Jay Smith, his supervisor in DCI’s now-shuttered Superior field office, of illegally selling and manufacturing guns and possessing a stolen machine gun. Bethards later sent out emails to other law enforcement agencies claiming DOJ had done nothing with his allegations.

The emails released Thursday indicate Matthews alerted ATF of the allegations within days of receiving them. That agency did investigate Smith but didn’t file any charges. Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John wrote in Bethards’ termination letter that his allegations were baseless and he didn’t conduct himself honestly.

The state Department of Workforce Development plans to hold a hearing in May on Bethards’ complaint that DOJ retaliated against him over the Smith allegations.

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