Federal Judges Says ATF Stash House Stings Are Useless And Ugly

from the in-which-the-ATF-is-informed-its-baby-is-neither-cute-nor-likable dept

A chief federal judge in Chicago has handed down a scathing opinion calling ATF stash house stings an “ends justifies the means” evil that needs to be “relegated to the dark corridors of our past.” The opinion shuts the door on two defendants hoping to show the ATF’s fake robberies of fake stash houses filled with fake drugs were racially-biased, but it does show even without the taint of bias, the sting operations are exploitative and useless. (via Brad Heath)

The opinion [PDF] has nothing good to say about the stash house stings. It opens with numbers that certainly appear to show racial bias and it doesn’t let up from there.

It is undisputed that between 2006 and 2013, the defendants charged in this District in the ATF false stash house cases were 78.7 black, 9.6 percent Hispanic, and 11.7 percent white. During this same period, the District’s adult population was approximately 18 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic, and 63 percent White. These numbers generate great disrespect for law enforcement efforts. Disrespect for the law cannot be tolerated during these difficult times. It is time for false stash house cases to end and be relegated to the dark corridors of our past. To put it simply, our criminal justice system should not tolerate false stash house cases in 2018.


Our society simply cannot accept a “win at all costs” mentality in the delicate world of law enforcement, which is ultimately dependent on proactive citizen involvement.

The judge then goes on to speak about the valuable work of taking firearms off the streets, but says that this job cannot, and should not, be performed through bogus sting operations — even in an era where gun violence is seemingly more prevalent. Even when violence against citizens and (especially) law enforcement was at its peak nearly 100 years ago, the ATF never stooped to using complete bullshit to secure a steady stream of criminal defendants.

[E]ven during the low points of the great violence caused by the alcohol wars of Prohibition, the ATP did not seek to use “false alcohol warehouse” tactics against any ethnic organized crime groups to promote public safety. Instead, the ATP used solid investigative work to garner the great public respect of the Elliot Ness era that still lives today as the gold standard of law enforcement. This type of work inspires great public cooperation with law enforcement, unlike the false drug stash house cases before the Court.

Judge Ruben Castillo notes that many ATF sting cases — like the two before him — operate under the theory that roping in otherwise uninvolved citizens will somehow result in the seizure of illegal weapons. Some cases, obviously, do result in weapons being taken off the streets. Far more often, the only thing taken off the streets are people with little in the way of criminal records or cash, talked into taking down a fake stash house for a cut of a completely fabricated drugs and money. The fake amounts of drugs in the fake stash house are used to determine sentence lengths, with the ATF asserting — without exception — that the quantity of make-believe drugs discussed with sting victims is enough to trigger 20-year minimum sentences.

The judge points out that the government is lucky he’s only considering the issues raised by the defendants: alleged Fifth Amendment violations predicated on the apparent bias in the ATF’s stash house sting operations. Much of the 73-page opinion discussed expert opinions based on studies of the underlying facts of a decade’s-worth of stash house stings. Some evidence of discriminatory selection exists, but it’s undercut by most DEA stings being predicated on tips from confidential informants. In other words, maybe CI’s are bigoted, but the operations themselves are not, despite a large percentage of defendants being minorities.

The trials of these two defendants will continue. But the concerns expressed by the judge suggest the ATF is no longer welcome to bring stash house sting prosecutions into Judge Castillo’s court. This is only one judge of hundreds in the federal system, but it’s another federal judiciary voice to add to those who’ve already expressed concern, if not actual dismay, at the ATF’s sting operations.

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Comments on “Federal Judges Says ATF Stash House Stings Are Useless And Ugly”

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Anonymous Coward says:

After the ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious – the insane plan to put military-type weapons into the hands of known Mexican criminal gangs – it’s almost hard to be surprised anymore at the latest ATF bunglings. Maybe it’s about time to shut down the ATF, or at least severely reduce its mission and budget.

Perhaps it’s one of the unintended consequences of creating so many federal “alphabet” agencies, they’re going to create all kinds of new “responsibilities” to justify their existence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Odd choice of example

Instead, the ATP used solid investigative work to garner the great public respect of the Elliot Ness era that still lives today as the gold standard of law enforcement. This type of work inspires great public cooperation with law enforcement

Cooperation? There was widespread disrespect for prohibition. Large numbers of people were using alcohol illegally, thereby making cops enemies to hide from. Actually, that sounds a lot like today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Odd choice of example

I think the judge was referring to how Elliot Ness is remembered as being an honorable man, and that citizens would want to cooperate with law enforcement officers that acted like Ness did. By extension, law enforcement officers who act as many current day ones do inspire only suspicion and distrust.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Odd choice of example

Large numbers of people were using alcohol illegally

It was never illegal to use/drink alcohol during Prohibition. It was only illegal to manufacture, sell, and/or transport alcohol.

The Governor of New York at the time was a vocal opponent and critic of Prohibition and he also happened to have a very extensive wine collection. To make his point, he would regularly host parties at his home where he openly served wine and liquor that he owned long before Prohibition was enacted, and it was all perfectly legal.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Useless and Ugly? ... what about UNLAWFUL?

There is no federal police jurisdiction in the
> constitution outside the District of Columbia and other
> federal possessions.

Nonsense. The Constitution gives Congress the police power to prosecute counterfeit currency. Nothing in that grant of power limits Congress’s ability to combat counterfeiting only to Washington DC. It would be odd indeed if that was the case, considering Washington DC didn’t even exist when the Constitution was written.

btr1701 (profile) says:


It seems like this stash house scheme should logically reach a point of diminishing returns rather quickly. The word on the street ought to get out fast that the G is running a stash house robbery scam and to avoid doing it, especially if it’s a job that you get roped into by someone else.

Of course, you’ll never lose if you bet on the stupidity of the average criminal, so there’s that, too.

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