Those affected would include personnel in Mexico, where agents are helping Mexican officials trace guns seized by police in the bloody drug wars, the sources said. More than 65,000 guns have been traced back to sales in the United States.
Criticism of project
The Justice Department inspector general criticized Project Gunrunner for "significant weaknesses." It said that 68 percent of the project's investigations "are single-defendant cases, and some ATF managers discourage field personnel from conducting the types of complex conspiracy investigations that target higher-level members of trafficking rings."
ATF officials said that they are taking heed of the criticisms and that the budget cuts are looming at a time when their border efforts are making progress.
"Mexican drug lords go shopping for war weapons in Arizona," U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said at a news conference in Phoenix last week to announce the bust of the alleged gunrunning ring.
According to the indictment, ATF officials determined that more than 600 of the 700 guns purchased by the network had come from a single U.S. gun store, Lone Wolf Trading Co. in Glendale, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb. Lone Wolf was not charged with any wrongdoing.
Last year, The Post reported that Lone Wolf ranked first among U.S. stores with the most guns traced to Mexican crime scenes, with 185 firearms traced to Mexico over a two-year period.
In a strip mall next to a spa, Lone Wolf features mounted animal heads on walls and model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. A sign last fall behind the cash register advertised AK-47s for $499. With about 1,515 crime guns traced, Lone Wolf ranked eighth overall on the list of U.S. guns stores with firearms traced from crimes. The rank is a jump from No. 61 on the 2004 list of gun stores that sold firearms traced to crimes.
Last year, 12 people were indicted on charges of making false statements in order to buy 17 AK-47-type rifles headed to Mexico. The guns were purchased from seven stores, including Lone Wolf. Owner Andre Howard could not be reached for comment. ATF officials said they have no indication that Lone Wolf has done anything wrong in any of the cases.
Bill Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF Phoenix office, said last week that the "Fast and Furious" investigation was "further proof of the relentless efforts by Mexican drug cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, to illegally acquire large quantities of firearms in Arizona and elsewhere in the U.S."