Guns from Operation Fast and Furious were found at scenes in Arizona and Texas, the Justice Department acknowledges, widening the scope of the danger posed by the program.
|Bill Newell, special agent in charge of ATF Phoenix, speaks behind a cache of seized weapons in Phoenix. The ATF is under fire over a Phoenix-based gun-trafficking investigation called “Fast and Furious,” in which agents allowed hundreds of guns into the hands of straw purchasers in hopes of making a bigger case. (Matt York / Associated Press / January 25, 2011)|
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Firearms from the ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious weapons trafficking investigation turned up at the scenes of at least 11 violent crimes in the U.S., as well as at a Border Patrol agent’s slaying in southern Arizona last year, the Justice Department has acknowledged to Congress.
The department did not provide details about the crimes. But The Times has learned that they occurred in several Arizona cities, including Phoenix, where Fast and Furious was managed, as well as in El Paso, where a total of 42 weapons from the operation were seized at two crime scenes.
The new numbers, which expand the scope of the danger the program posed to U.S. citizens over a 14-month period, are contained in a letter that Justice Department officials turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.
In the letter, obtained by The Times on Tuesday, Justice Department officials also reported that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials advised them that the agency’s acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, “likely became aware” of the operation as early as December 2009, a month after it began.
Melson has said he did not learn about how the operation was run until January of this year, when it was canceled.
The July 22 letter, signed by Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich, was sent to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was in response to questions posed to the Justice Department about Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and the weapons operation.
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