Texas Case Raises Troubling Questions About ATF Gunwalking

Rio Grande Valley Businessman Was The Target of Multiple Arms-Trafficking Investigations Yet He Continued To Acquire Guns Through Straw Buyers

By Bill Conroy @ the Narcosphere

ATF1A series of criminal investigations initiated some four years ago by ATF agents, all focused on a weapons-trafficking ring in South Texas, appear to shred the long-running talking point that the Obama Administration alone is responsible for unleashing an irresponsible operation that allowed thousands of illegally purchased guns to be trafficked into Mexico via a tactic known as “gunwalking.”

That Obama Administration operation, dubbed Fast and Furious, was launched in the fall of 2009 and terminated in early 2011 in the wake of a Republican-led Congressional probe into the program.

The ATF investigations in the South Texas case were initiated at least by August 2008, more than a year prior to Fast and Furious and while President George W. Bush was still in office. It was under the Obama Administration, in late December 2011, that the investigations were finally closed with a jury conviction of the primary suspect.

The South Texas case, then, straddles two administrations and, by any reasonable assessment, also appears to have allowed numerous illegally purchased guns to “walk” (to pass through the weapons-trafficking chain, from one illegal buyer to the next, during the course of a long-running ATF investigation).

The South Texas arms-trafficking case casts a whole new light on the gunwalking controversy, revealing it to be a tactic employed by ATF and sanctioned by US prosecutors across multiple administrations and states — a tactic that is more emblematic of a drug war-induced systemic rot in this nation’s judicial system than of a political ploy to erode gun rights.

The Sting

Celerino Castillo pulled into a Whataburger fast-food restaurant parking lot near the border city of Pharr, Texas, on Feb. 16, 2008, and turned over to Manuel Tijerina Herrera several guns purchased earlier that day in Central Texas.

Tijerina Herrera (known by the nickname Meme) was driving a Chevy four-door truck with paper license plates that day. The transaction was witnessed by two federal agents (one from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the other with ATF) who were assigned to clandestinely set up surveillance on Castillo and who had followed him from the Austin area to Pharr on Feb. 16, 2008, observing his activities and gun purchases.

ATF2Two of the weapons delivered to Tijerina Herrera were bought at a gun show in Austin, Texas, by an individual named Jay Lemire, who had signed on as an ATF informant. Lemire, according to an ATF criminal complaint and surveillance report obtained by Narco News, had purchased the weapons from a gun-show salesman who worked for a registered federal firearms dealer. That salesman, however, ATF records show, was a convicted felon and, under federal law, should not even have been permitted to handle a firearm.

The feds deemed the transaction an illegal “straw purchase,” because Lemire indicated on the firearms-purchase paperwork that he was acquiring the guns for himself — when, in fact, the ATF complaint argues, he planned to turn them over to Castillo.

Because Lemire was working as an informant, however, his act of lawbreaking had been cleared by ATF and the whole operation was designed to sting Castillo, a former DEA agent with no prior criminal record — and also a well-known whistleblower who, some three decades ago, had helped to expose CIA arms-for-drugs transshipments that were part of the US effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra era.

Castillo, according to his federal court pleadings, had no reason to suspect the weapons transactions — either the one with Lemire, or later, with Tijerina Herrera — were illegal, because neither individual, at the time, was a convicted felon or otherwise prohibited from owning or selling firearms. Still, Castillo’s gun-trading activities that day would become part of the ATF complaint that led to his arrest several weeks later, on March 6, 2008, and his eventual conviction on gun charges... Read More.

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