Miami Leads in the Number of ATF Phony Drug Stings—with Deadly Results By Tod Aronovitz | 07/11/13 | 0 Comment

Miami is a main staging area used by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for sting operations, according to a USA Today investigation. The Miami drug sting targets unknowing criminals who are encouraged to rob fake drug stash houses. The investigation is based on the examination of thousands of pages of court records, agency files and undercover recordings.

The USA Today report, published June 28, found that ATF agents arrested 130 suspects in Miami-Dade alone, accounting for more than twice as many as second place Chicago (52) and almost one-quarter of all those prosecuted nationwide. Broward County followed close behind Chicago with 50 prosecutions, more than Phoenix (34) and Los Angeles (27). Out of the national total, 30 percent of these types of operations occur in South Florida. Part of the reason for the high numbers may be attributed to the large quantity of illicit drugs being transported through the area.

Miami was the first city to launch ATF drug house stings back in the early 1990s as criminals capitalized on the chance to steal illegal drug shipments. Shortly after, the fictional nature of these operations came into play as ATF agents wanted to avoid residential areas.

The report also showed that in the last decade, the ATF nabbed 208 suspects in drug house operations compared to 41 a decade earlier. Although these ploys have become a valuable tool for the ATF, some prosecutors have refused to allow them, questioning the time and cost involved to arrest marginal criminals and the safety of aggressive maneuvers.

Over the last decade, seven fatalities occurred in these ATF fake drug busts–all in South Florida and involving the Miami-Dade Police Department.

One ATF-led raid that resulted in fatalities occurred last year when four robbers were killed by Miami-Dade Police snipers after they entered a residential house that they thought was a drug dealer’s stash house in Redland. None of the victims fired a shot.

The incident led to an investigation by The New York Times.  In the probe, the Miami-Dade Police Department turned down requests by the newspaper to submit their official “rules of engagement.” USA Today revealed in its investigation, however, that this raid did not align with traditional ATF policy of steering clear of residential areas and apprehending suspects while they are still in their vehicles.

The other fatal ATF operation occurred in Miami in September 2006 when six career criminals were tricked into thinking a tractor-trailer held 80 kilos of cocaine. The robbers, who wore fake shirts identifying them as FBI and DEA agents, were barraged by gunfire. Although two carried guns, they never fired shots, and three died in the incident as a result.

There appears to be a shift within the ATF with emphasis now on drug busts as opposed to weapons cases. According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the total number of people prosecuted in weapons cases as a result of investigations has dropped about 28 percent, while the number of people charged for drug offenses by the agency has risen 26 percent.

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