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ATF denies it promoted Fast and Furious supervisors

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The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that three supervisors in its controversial Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation were transferred to lateral jobs, not promoted.

"They did not receive salary or grade increases, nor did they assume positions with greater responsibility," the agency said in a short statement.

The Times reported Tuesday that William G. McMahon, William D. Newell and David Voth, three key supervisors in the Phoenix-run investigation that went awry, were promoted to management positions at the ATF's Washington headquarters.

After that report, the House committee investigating Fast and Furious asked the ATF to explain the new jobs and clarify whether the men had been promoted. On Wednesday, the agency's acting director, Kenneth E. Melson, told the Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff that the jobs were not considered promotions because no one got a raise. Then the ATF issued its statement.

Operation Fast and Furious was intended to identify Mexican drug cartel leaders and gun-smuggling routes across the border. The ATF allowed straw purchasers to buy weapons in the U.S., planning to track the guns to Mexico and drug cartel leaders. Instead, many of the weapons vanished and turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including at the slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona last December.

Melson announced McMahon's new job in an email Sunday, citing him for the "skills and abilities" he demonstrated throughout his career.

Three ATF agents, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, told The Times Monday that they were amazed at what they viewed as promotions to headquarters.

Also Monday, three ATF public affairs spokesmen did not to return calls for comment.

On Wednesday, however, the AFT said in its statement: "Media reports inaccurately characterized personnel changes … as promotions."

The ATF said McMahon, field operations deputy assistant director, was reassigned to a position with the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, filling a spot that had been vacant for more than a year. It said the reassignment took place May 13.

The agency also said Newell, who ran the ATF's Arizona and New Mexico field office during Fast and Furious, was reassigned to the Office of Management to assist with congressional and inspector general's investigations into the failed operation.

And it said Voth was reassigned to a headquarters position.

"These transfers/reassignments have never been described as promotions in any of the documents announcing them," the ATF's statement said.

Fast and Furious ran from November 2009 to January 2011. Hundreds of firearms vanished on both sides of the border. Nearly 200 were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, and the Justice Department said the ATF had told it that weapons also were recovered in at least 11 "violent crime instances" in this country, from Arizona to Texas.

No cartel leaders were ever arrested.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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