Federal agents who entrapped mentally disabled young men in sting operations across the country did not know their targets were disabled, the director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms said Wednesday.
"We do not target the developmentally disabled," ATF director Todd Jones testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The Oversight Committee is investigating a series of ATF sting operations in six cities—originally reported on by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel—where agents set up false storefronts, used mentally disabled people to drum up sales of illegal drugs and guns, and then arrested them.
"Your agents target people with low IQs because they are susceptible to this kind of buddying up," Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) told Jones. "One individual was tutored by ATF agents about how to use a machine gun so he could go out, buy one, and then be arrested by ATF."
Jones said the ATF only learned that their targets were disabled during defense pleadings in court.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) pressed Jones to explain how agents were unaware of what they were doing.
"You don't think your agents dealing with an individual with an IQ in the 50s knew they were dealing with a mentally disabled person?" Duckworth asked Jones. "If your IQ is in the 50s it is very clear someone is mentally disabled."
"To be honest with you, Congresswoman, I don't know what they thought," Jones replied.
The Journal-Sentinel investigation found that agents in Wichita decided to hire an unemployed 20-year-old man with an IQ in the mid-50s who they referred to as "slow-headed."
Agents in Pensacola, Fla., befriended an unemployed 24-year-old with an IQ of 76. ATF agents joked he was "half retarded," and surveillance video captured one saying, "I can use his desperation against him."
Agents in Portland, Ore., convinced two young men to get tattoos of their fake company’s logo—a squid. The agents took pictures and posted them on the company’s Facebook page and website.
"They humiliated us," one of the men told the Journal-Sentinel. "They were making a mockery of us."
However, Jones argued the operations were largely successful. He said that as result of the sting operations "259 defendants have been convicted, and over 1,300 firearms recovered."
"I acknowledge, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, that there were deficiencies in our execution and management of some past activities in certain storefronts. We have since implemented new policies and procedures to minimize the chance of such deficiencies occurring in the future."
The Oversight Committee subpoenaed the ATF for documents on the botched sting operations on March 19, after what the committee said is more than a year of unfulfilled requests for information.
The subpoena deadline for the ATF to produce the documents was Monday. According to Issa’s office, it has not been fulfilled.