WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- A U.S. Department of Justice report found Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, agents broke federal laws prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities during undercover operations.
The report relates to the ATF's undercover storefront stings -- intended to take illegal guns and drugs off the streets. Though ATF agents are not accused of directly targeting people with disabilities in the operation, the Justice Department found agents broke the laws protecting people with disabilities.
In the ATF's Operation Fearless multi-city program, agents operate nearly 40 pawn shops and storefronts in the United States with the hopes of attracting felons and criminals to unknowingly sell firearms or guns to the government. The guns are traced and authorities determine if they have been used for a crime.
A two-and-a-half year Justice Department investigation was begun after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2012 that ATF agents working in Milwaukee had three of their guns stolen, including a machine gun. The newspaper also reported ATF agents used a man who had brain damage and a low IQ to promote the operation's store, only to then arrest him.
ATF agents were also accused of allowing armed felons to leave stores, incorrectly arresting four people and paying too much for weapons so people would buy guns elsewhere and sell them to the agents for a profit.
"We found no evidence that ATF targeted or used individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in its storefront investigations because of their disability," the Justice Department wrote in the report. "However, we determined during the course of this review that the Department of Justice had failed to apply ... the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ... which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, to its federal law enforcement activities."
U.S. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that he was concerned enough about the ATF's failure to follow the disability law that he is requiring quarterly updates on the Justice Department's practices.
"Our review determined that while undercover operations can be an important component of ATF's efforts to fight violent crime, ATF failed to devote sufficient attention to how it was managing its undercover storefront operations," the report said. "It lacked adequate policies and guidance for its agents, and in some cases supervision, necessary to appropriately address the risks associated with the use of this complex investigative technique."