By Alicia A. Caldwell
WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the guns that Mexican officials say was found at the hideout of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera has been found to be associated with Fast and Furious, a failed “gun-walking” operation, according to the Justice Department.
The department said in a letter to members of Congress that a .50-caliber rifle that Mexican officials sent for tracing after Guzman’s arrest in January has been connected to Fast and Furious.
Officials say the weapon was one of 19 firearms that Mexican authorities said was recovered from the hideout and was the only one determined to be associated with the botched sting operation, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed gun-runners to buy weapons in hopes of tracking them and disrupting gun smuggling rungs.
The rifle was bought in July 2010 in a straw purchase by someone not known to ATF at the time. The buyer was later identified and came under investigation but was never indicted. The weapon is not known to be associated with any other crime, the Justice Department says.
As of January, the ATF said it had recovered 885 firearms purchased by targets of Operation Fast and Furious. Several of those have been linked to violent crimes, including a 2010 firefight near the Mexican border during which Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.
“ATF and the department deeply regret that firearms associated with Operation Fast and Furious have been used by criminals in the commission of violent crimes, particularly crimes resulting in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik, head of the Justice Department’s legislative affairs office, wrote in a March 15 letter to congressional leaders.
After escaping from a Mexican prison last year, Guzman was recaptured in January in the western state of Sinaloa after fleeing a safe house through a storm sewer.
Mexican officials initially submitted eight rifles for tracing that they said were recovered from the home in Sinaloa where Guzman was captured. None of those weapons were found to be linked to Fast and Furious, the Justice Department said.
Later, Mexican officials requested a trace on an additional 11 rifles they said had also been seized from the home, but unlike the others, had been sent to Mexico City prior to submission for tracing.