4 congressmen demand answers on undercover sting

File photo.
File photo.

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Four congressmen are demanding answers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about whether anyone has been held accountable for a botched, undercover guns and drugs operation in Milwaukee.

The congressmen, including Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, wrote Friday to ATF director B. Todd Jones asking why a supervisor in charge of the Milwaukee operation was not disciplined, but instead got a plum assignment, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Saturday. Bernard Zapor had been in charge of the ATF’s St. Paul, Minnesota, field division, which included the Milwaukee office. Jones later put Zapor in charge of the Phoenix Field Division.

The storefront sting was called Operation Fearless. A Journal Sentinel investigation in January 2013 found that an agent’s guns were stolen during the operation, including a machine gun that remains missing. Agents used a mentally disabled man to promote the operation and then arrested him. Four of the wrong people were arrested, felons were allowed to leave the store armed, and the operation was burglarized.

Jones and Zapor had worked together in Minnesota, where Jones did double duty as the U.S. attorney while serving as interim ATF director from 2011 until the Senate confirmed Jones to lead the federal agency last summer.

Zapor was put in charge late last summer of the Phoenix Field Division, which ran “Operation Fast and Furious,” during which thousands of assault rifles passed into the hands of criminals. Some ended up at murder scenes, including one where a U.S. border guard was killed.

“We were dismayed to hear that he was being reassigned to … arguably the ATF’s most important field division given the high volume of weapons trafficking there as well as its geographic proximity to Mexican drug cartel activity,” the letter said.

Zapor has roots in Arizona. He started his career as an agent in Phoenix in the late 1980s and has family in the area, the letter said.

“This gave rank-and-file agents the impression that, instead of being disciplined for his role in Operation Fearless, Zapor was actually receiving a taxpayer-funded soft landing,” said the letter, which was also signed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Reps. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia.

At a congressional hearing on storefront operations this year, Jones said he had complete confidence in Zapor.

An ATF spokeswoman has said the agency does not comment on personnel matters. She did not immediately respond to the newspaper’s request for comment on the new letter.

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