WASHINGTON — A high-powered rifle lost in the ATF's Fast and Furious controversy was used to kill a Mexican police chief in the state of Jalisco earlier this year, according to internal Department of Justice records, suggesting that weapons from the failed gun-tracking operation have now made it into the hands of violent drug cartels deep inside Mexico.
Luis Lucio Rosales Astorga, the police chief in the city of Hostotipaquillo, was shot to death Jan. 29 when gunmen intercepted his patrol car and opened fire. Also killed was one of his bodyguards. His wife and a second bodyguard were wounded.
Local authorities said eight suspects in their 20s and 30s were arrested after police seized them nearby with a cache of weapons - rifles, grenades, handguns, helmets, bulletproof vests, uniforms and special communications equipment. The area is a hot zone for rival drug gangs, with members of three cartels fighting over turf in the region.
A semi-automatic WASR rifle, the firearm that killed the chief, was traced back to the Lone Wolf Trading Company, a gun store in Glendale, Ariz. The notation on the Department of Justice trace records said the WASR was used in a "HOMICIDE � WILLFUL � KILL �PUB OFF �GUN" �ATF code for "Homicide, Willful Killing of a Public Official, Gun."
Hundreds of firearms were lost in the Fast and Furious operation. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed illegal purchasers to buy the firearms at the Lone Wolf store in the Phoenix suburb and other gun shops in hopes of tracing them to Mexican cartel leaders.
The WASR used in Jalisco was purchased on Feb. 22, 2010, about three months into the Fast and Furious operation, by 26-year-old Jacob A. Montelongo of Phoenix. He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements and smuggling goods from the United States and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Court records show Montelongo personally obtained at least 109 firearms during Fast and Furious. How the WASR ended up in the state of Jalisco, which is deep in central Mexico and includes the country's second-largest metropolis, Guadalajara, remained unclear.
After the shooting in Jalisco, local officials said some of the suspects confessed to two other shootouts in the area, including one that left seven people dead, all part of the continuing feud by rival cartel members.
The ATF declined to discuss the matter; officials said they are still compiling an inventory of all the lost firearms for a complete account of the Fast and Furious operation.
Instead of being tracked, almost all the weapons were lost as they flooded across the border into Mexico. In all, some 211 people were killed or wounded by Fast and Furious weapons in Mexico, according to Mexican authorities. And on this side of the border, a Fast and Furious weapon was found at the Arizona scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was slain in 2010.
Terry's slaying set off a number of investigations in Washington into Fast and Furious. It led to the firing or demotion of many ATF officials, including the agency's acting director, who stepped down. It ultimately prompted the GOP-controlled House to vote Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over a number of Fast and Furious records sought by the House Oversight Committee.
©2013 Tribune Co.