ATF agents across the country are working to locate thousands of firearms and firearm parts that had been seized by law enforcement and that were supposed to be destroyed but have d ‘was first stolen, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Officers are looking for some of their own retired service weapons as well as weapons from other federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and DEA.
All of the weapons had been sent to the National Firearms and Ammunition Destruction Branch of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to be shredded, according to court documents and letters from Congress.
A longtime ATF facility warden admitted to transporting thousands of firearms, gun parts and ammunition and selling them over several years.
Christopher Yates, 52, a guard who worked as a contract employee for ATF for 16 years, has been indicted in a West Virginia federal court. He pleaded guilty in April to possession of a stolen firearm and theft of government property.
Yates is expected to be sentenced in August. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, but is unlikely to get the maximum under federal sentencing guidelines.
The ATF recovered more than 4,000 guns and parts that had gone missing while Yates worked there, according to Yates plea agreement.
Yates admitted to stealing at least 3,000 slides, a key part of a firearm allowing him to fire, Glock semi-automatic handguns. He also admitted to stealing dozens of firearms, including at least four fully automatic machine guns, which are tightly regulated by the ATF.
It is not clear from the plea agreement whether all of these machine guns were recovered.
Yates told prosecutors that when he was alone in the facility, he stole the guns and parts and then sold them.
The agency did not provide many details to Congress about the extent of the theft in a letter to senators sent in March and obtained this week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In the March 28 letter to the American Senses Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) And Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Then acting director of the ATF, Tom Brandon, said he couldn’t say big- thing because of Yates’ open file.
Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and Peters, the committee’s senior member, wrote a letter in March requesting responses from the agency, claiming they had been told 600 guns and parts were stolen.
“We cannot yet characterize the extent of thefts at the Martinsburg facility,” wrote Brandon, who retired from the agency in late April.
Less than two weeks after Brandon’s letter was sent, many details of the case were laid out in Yates’ plea agreement filed in West Virginia federal court.
The agency still does not publicly say how many guns and gun parts were taken, only revealing that the loss was “significant.”
ATF spokeswoman April Langwell noted in an email to Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that “the total number cannot be disclosed pending pending investigation and recovery.”
When asked why the agency did not disclose to Congress the details that were in Yates’ plea deal, Langwell wrote: “The investigation was ongoing and the timing of the information was released. the result of the regular court process. “
In a statement released on Wednesday, Johnson and Peters said:
“The ATF is responsible for protecting our communities and the theft of a significant amount of weapons, parts and ammunition from ATF facilities raises significant concerns. Our committee wants a full account of this situation and we hope the ATF will be as transparent as possible. possible as we continue to search for answers.
Search for stolen weapons
Officers “ran around the clock” to try to find the weapons, which took time for further investigations, according to several sources familiar with efforts to find the stolen weapons.
Each of the ATF’s 25 field offices across the country has been tasked with tracking down the stolen weapons, including Chicago, which oversees operations in Milwaukee.
In his letter to senators, Brandon said the ATF has applied “the necessary resources to maximize the recovery of stolen property.” The agency also beefed up the security of the gun destruction facility, he wrote.
Langwell, the agency’s spokesperson, wrote on Wednesday: “Most of the property has been recovered; however, the investigation is ongoing so we cannot provide further details.
She also said the ATF was not authorized to compensate people who might have unknowingly purchased the stolen weapons or parts. The process by which officers obtain the guns from these people is not clear.
Sources close to the ATF’s efforts say guns and stolen parts have been recovered across the country, in Mexico and the Caribbean, including at crime scenes.
Several surveys have been launchedin what happened.
The ATF tasked a team to examine how Yates could brazenly steal guns and parts for years. They are also examining why a number of guns have been listed as destroyed when they were not.
The inspector general of the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as at least one congressional committee, are also investigating the case. The agency reported the theft to the two Inspectors General.
“We continue to work closely with the Office of the Inspector General to ensure full accountability in this review,” Langwell wrote.
ATF gun destruction reviewed
Last year, the Inspector General of the Ministry of Justice published an audit of ATF controls on arms and ammunition but did not find any problems with the agency’s practices. The examination apparently took place before Yates’ theft was detected.
“We found that the ATF generally maintains effective controls over the disposal of seized firearms,” but auditors acknowledged how “inherently risky” it was for the ATF to ship all seized weapons to one place. He added: “We believe that the use of a central destruction facility with all firearms seized is effective control.”
The report went on to say that the guns are destroyed using an industrial shredder. The process is assisted by an ATF special agent and “accredited employee or contractor” who signs a report certifying that the weapon has been destroyed.
The current case echoes a series of issues in ATF storefront operations in Milwaukee and across the country, documented in a 2013 Sentinel Investigation Journal. These operations were aimed at trapping criminals selling guns and drugs, but encountered many problems. Across the country.
Guns belonging to the ATF, including a fully automatic machine gun, were stolen and the machine gun was not recovered. Undercover agents used a mentally handicapped man to promote the operation and then stopped him. Agents roughly overpaid for guns, some of which had been purchased the same day at Gander Mountain and other stores.
The Yates investigation began in February, when Philadelphia Police recovered a gun during a traffic stop. They recovered a .40 caliber Glock blade that came from a weapon that was said to have been destroyed, according to the plea agreement.
Yates, an itinerant guard, had access to all ATF facilities and quickly became the focus of the investigation. He later admitted that he had stolen guns and parts since 2016.
He sold the stolen weapons, parts and ammunition to others, including Anthony Miller, an ATF facility maintenance worker, and Adam Schreiber, an arms dealer in Pennsylvania. Schreiber, in turn, sold the guns across the country, according to the Yates plea deal. Neither of the other two has been charged.
Langwell, the ATF spokeswoman, said more details would be released by the agency once the investigations are completed.
“There are lessons to be learned from everything,” she wrote. “No business or organization is immune from the damage a corrupt entrepreneur, especially a security guard, can inflict.”