Firearms connected to Operation Fast and Furious were used in the 2010 slaying of the brother of the former Chihuahua state attorney general, according to a U.S. congressional report.
The report said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced two of the weapons suspected in the murder of lawyer Mario González Rodríguez, but did not report this fact to the Mexican government until eight months after the tracing.
The joint congressional staff report “The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence” was prepared for U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., two lawmakers who are spearheading an ongoing investigation into the ATF’s controversial operation.
“On October 21, 2010, drug cartel members kidnapped Mario González Rodríguez from his office,” according to the 2011 congressional report. “At the time of the kidnapping, his sister Patricia González Rodríguez was the attorney general of the state of Chihuahua.”
Mexican officials said Patricia González Rodríguez was already on her way out because the new governor had been installed and a new state prosecutor was going to be appointed.
“A few days after the kidnapping,” the congressional report said, “a video surfaced on the Internet in which Mario González Rodríguez sat
handcuffed, surrounded by five heavily armed men wearing masks, dressed in camouflage and bullet-proof vest.”
“Apparently, under duress,” the report said, “(González Rodríguez) alleged that his sister had ordered killings at the behest of the Juárez cartel … the video quickly went viral.”
Chihuahua state Attorney General Patricia González Rodríguez denied the allegations of drug corruption and traveled to Mexico City to seek the federal government’s help in investigating her brother’s murder. She is no longer in Chihuahua, and reportedly left Mexico for safety reasons.
A video of Mario González Rodríguez’s “interrogation” by armed men was carried on YouTube. The body of the well-known Chihuahua City lawyer was found Nov. 5, 2010, in a shallow grave.
Then, Mexican federal authorities, following a shootout with drug cartel suspects, seized 16 weapons and arrested eight men in connection with Mario González Rodríguez’s murder.
Mexican officials submitted information about the weapons to the ATF’s e-trace system, and the ATF traced two AK-47s to Operation Fast and Furious.
The congressional report said that an ATF email indicated that ATF officials in Phoenix who knew the two assault rifles came from the controversial operation withheld the information from Mexican officials until June 2011.
In congressional testimony, Carlos Canino, the ATF’s acting U.S. attaché in Mexico, said he’s the one who finally notified Mexican federal Attorney General Marisela Morales about the weapons-tracing and their link to the death of Mario González Rodríguez.
The report said Morales was shocked and remarked, “Hijole!,” which the report said translates into “Oh, my.”
Canino feared an international incident might break out with Mexico if the information leaked out to the news media instead of being sent through government channels. He told U.S. lawmakers that he did not want to undermine the trust that U.S. law enforcement had developed with their Mexican counterparts in the war against the drug cartels.
Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Saturday in response to the U.S. congressional report’s findings that “the government of Mexico has not granted, nor will grant, under any circumstance, tacit or explicit authorization for the deliberate walking of arms into Mexico.
“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on ongoing investigations, and therefore will await the outcome of both the U.S. and Mexican investigations, and then react accordingly.”
Last week, the ATF released a report that said 68,000 weapons recovered in Mexico between 2007 and 2011 were traced back to U.S. sources. That report does not mention which of the weapons were part of the undercover Operation Fast and Furious.
Weapons traced back to the operation have been recovered in eight Mexican states and in Mexico City, and most of them were destined for the Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the congressional report said.
And, at least eight Fast and Furious-connected weapons were recovered at crime scenes in Juárez and four in Chihuahua City between 2010 and 2011.
The Sinaloa cartel has been waging a bloody battle against the Carrillo Fuentes organization that’s killed nearly 9,500 people in Juárez alone since 2008.
On Jan. 13, 2010, the El Paso Police Department seized 40 rifles on the East Side that the congressional report said were connected to Fast and Furious. Weapons connected to the operation also were recovered in Columbus, N.M.
The number of Fast and Furious weapons found at Mexican crime scenes could be higher because the information provided to congressional investigators remains incomplete, the report said.
Last November, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it was among local law enforcement agencies asked to assist with Operation Fast and Furious.
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said then that his department helped a Drug Enforcement Administration regional task force with surveillance but that he was not told it was for Fast and Furious.
ATF officials launched Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 in Phoenix in an attempt to identify high-level arms traffickers who were supplying the Mexican drug cartels with weapons. The operation allowed weapons purchased in the United States to cross the border into Mexico.
ATF shut down the operation about a month after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was found murdered in the Arizona desert in December 2010. Two AK-47s, originally purchased as semiautomatics and connected to Fast and Furious, were found near Terry’s body.
The latest ATF report does not break down the 68,000 weapons traced to U.S. sources by states.
ATF spokesman Tom Crowley said the agency previously reported that most of the guns recovered in Mexico came from Texas, the border state that has the most gun stores.
Statistics in the recent ATF report mirror the trends in Mexico’s drug cartel violence.
For example, in 2008 Mexican officials submitted 31,111 serial numbers to the ATF for tracing, the same year that the Mexican cartels intensified their battles in Mexico.
The number of weapons submitted for e-trace was 17,352 in 2007; 21,555 in 2009; 8,338 in 2010; and 20,335 in 2011.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6140.
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