You are hereTalking Points Memo: Feds Indict Mayor, Police Chief Of Border Town As ATF 'Gunrunner' Program Faces Heat

Talking Points Memo: Feds Indict Mayor, Police Chief Of Border Town As ATF 'Gunrunner' Program Faces Heat

March 15, 2011- Eleven people -- including the mayor, police chief and a town councilman in Columbus, N.M. -- have been indicted by the feds for alleged involvement in an international gun running scheme that may have fueled violence south of the border.

Ten out of the eleven defendants charged in the trafficking ring will be arraigned Tuesday on charges of conspiracy, smuggling and making false statements in connection with firearms purchases, according to federal officials.

Mayor Eddie Espinoza allegedly served as a straw buyer for 22 pistols and stored weapons in an apartment he leased in a gated El Paso, Texas complex, reports the Wall Street Journal. The feds say Police Chief Angelo Vega bought bullet-proof vests and other body armor to be smuggled and participated in a cash pickup in Albuquerque. They also say he called federal agents twice to try to intercede on behalf of a village councilman, Blas Gutierrez, who was also accused in the smuggling scheme.

The charges come at a trying time for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which is facing criticism for the way it handled Project Gunrunner, a national initiative targeting illegal gun trafficking on the Mexico border. A senior ATF agent has told media outlets that ATF supervisors ordered agents not to intercept weapons made in suspicious sales --- but instead to monitor them to see where the weapons ended up.

ATF's acting director Kenneth E. Melson ordered an evaluation of the program, asking "a multi-disciplinary panel of law enforcement professionals to review the bureau's current firearms trafficking strategies." But some, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, are questioning whether the Justice Department's Inspector General can be trusted to properly investigate allegations.



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