Operation Fearless was an attempted entrapment of members of the American Outlaws Association in Milwaukee by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that began in July 2011 and eventually ended in chaos in September 2012.
The ATF committed six agents to the project and eventually enjoyed the cooperation and support of the FBI and the Milwaukee Police Department. The ATF opened a storefront called Fearless Distributing that offered designer clothes, jewelry, sneakers and drug paraphernalia for sale but was actually in the business of buying guns and drugs. It was one of numerous ATF “storefront operations” that included bogus stores in Portland, Boston, Pensacola, St. Louis, and Wichita.
Operation Fearless, like many ATF operations, was a farce. It never managed to entrap any Outlaws. Agents lost track of a fully automatic assault rifle and lost $35,000 worth of store “merchandise” in a burglary. The ATF paid such high prices for guns that potential victims of the sting legally bought guns from gun stores and sold them to friendly Fearless Distributing. One entrepreneur stole three ATF guns from the store. The next day he returned and sold one of them back. One of the men agents charged with selling them drugs had an airtight alibi. He was already in prison.
When Journalism Works
John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigated the botched operation and published what they learned on January 29, 2013. You can read that first piece here.
That initial MJS article prompted angry letters to ATF Acting Director B. Todd Jones from four Congressmen and two Senators.
“This week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on a disturbing ATF undercover operation that, similar to Operation Fast and Furious, appears to have had many problems with limited successes,” Senator Charles E. Grassley, and Congressmen Dirrell E. Issa, James Sensenbrenner, Jr. and Robert W. Goodlatte wrote. “According to the Journal Sentinel, this undercover operation began under your leadership in January 2012 when an ATF Violent Crime Impact Team opened a storefront in a Milwaukee neighborhood – a neighborhood where aggravated assaults were decreasing and homicide numbers were far fewer than other sections of Milwaukee.”
The storefront had been placed in the comparatively safe neighborhood because the operation was intended to entrap Outlaws and that comparatively safe neighborhood was frequented by Outlaws.
The MJS’s journalism and the political response to it, prompted an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice. You can read his complete, 112 page report titled A Review of ATF’s Undercover Storefront Operations here.
The report concluded that all the ATF’s storefront operations were characterized by “poor management, insufficient training and guidance to agents in the field, and a lax organizational culture that failed to place sufficient emphasis on risk management in these inherently sensitive operations.”
Joe Davidson of The Washington Post reported today that the ATF reacted to the report with a statement that it “acknowledges the findings made by the Inspector General.”