WASHINGTON — Two of the weapons found after a drug cartel gunfight last month in Sinaloa, Mexico, that killed five people have been traced back to the U.S. — one lost during the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, the other originally purchased by a supervisory ATF agent who helped oversee the botched gun-tracking operation.
The discovery of the firearms — an AK-47 assault rifle and a 5.7-millimeter pistol — provides new evidence that some of the 2,000 weapons lost under Fast and Furious, and others as well, continue to flow freely across the U.S.-Mexico border and likely will be turning up at violent crime scenes for years to come.
The purchase by the supervisory agent, George Gillett of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Phoenix field office, is now under review by the Justice Department's inspector general's office, which earlier this year found major systemic problems with Fast and Furious.
In a brief phone call Wednesday, Gillett declined to discuss why he purchased the FN Herstal pistol in January 2010 or how it ended up in Mexico. He listed his address as the Phoenix ATF field office in the purchasing documents.
"I've got no comment. I can't discuss it," he said. "But it was a lawful transaction."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a leading congressional investigator into Fast and Furious, asked the inspector general's office to review whether Gillett used false information in obtaining the weapon and two others by listing the field office or a Phoenix shopping center as his home addresses.
The other weapon recovered after the shooting, a Romanian AK-47-type WASR-10 rifle, was purchased in March 2010 in Arizona by Uriel Patino. It was one of more than 700 firearms he allegedly obtained illegally under the eyes of the ATF in its attempts to track weapons to the Mexican cartels. Patino is being prosecuted in Arizona in connection with the purchases.
The shooting occurred Nov. 24. Among those dead was Maria Susana Flores Gamez, a 22-year-old crowned "Sinaloa Woman" in 2012. Mexican authorities believe she might have been armed too and fired at soldiers, or was used as a human shield in the confrontation. Two soldiers also died.
Gillett was the ATF's assistant special agent in charge in Phoenix from October 2009, when Fast and Furious began, until April 2010. During his tenure, Fast and Furious suspects illegally purchased about 1,300 firearms for more than $1 million, yet according to the inspector general, "agents made no arrests and just a single seizure."
The inspector general's office, in its findings into Fast and Furious in September, also concluded that Gillett "lost sight of the immediate public safety risk being created" by the operation or that he "truly believed" that the risk was worth the effort if it led to cartel leaders.
"In either case," the inspector general's office said, "we found Gillett's supervision and judgment in Operation Fast and Furious seriously deficient."