A high-powered rifle lost in the Justice Department’s bungled gunrunning Operation Fast and Furious was used to kill two people in Mexico — including a police chief — in January, according to internal justice records.
The disclosure of the death of Luis Lucio Rosales Astorga, the police chief in the city of Hostotipaquillo, in the state of Jalisco, suggests that Fast and Furious weapons are now in the hands of violent drug cartels deep within Mexico, The Los Angeles Times reports
Astorga was fatally shot on Jan. 29 when gunmen ambushed his patrol car and opened fire. A bodyguard also was killed — and the police chief’s wife and a second bodyguard were wounded.
Eight suspects, in their 20s and 30s, were arrested after police seized them nearby with a cache of weapons, local authorities said.
The weapons included rifles, grenades, handguns, helmets, bulletproof vests, uniforms and special communications equipment, the Times reports.
The area, in central-western Mexico, is a hotbed for rival drug gangs, according to the Times, with members of three cartels fighting over turf in the region.
Fast and Furious was run out of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Under the bungled operation, more than 2,000 weapons — including giant .50-caliber guns — fell into the hands of Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.
Most of the weapons have never been recovered.
The gun used to kill Astorga was a semi-automatic WASR rifle. It was traced to Lone Wolf Trading Co., a gun store in Glendale, Ariz., outside Phoenix, the Times reports.
The notation on Justice’s trace records said the WASR was used in a “HOMICIDE — WILLFUL — KILL — PUB OFF — GUN” —ATF code for “Homicide, Willful Killing of a Public Official, Gun.”
The WASR used in Jalisco was bought on Feb. 22, 2010, about three months into Fast and Furious, by Jacob Montelongo, 26, of Phoenix, the Times reports.
Montelongo later pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements and smuggling goods from the United States and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Court records show Montelongo personally obtained at least 109 firearms during Fast and Furious. How the WASR ended up in Jalisco, which includes the country’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, remained unclear, the Times reports.
After the Jalisco shooting, local officials said some of the suspects confessed to two other shootouts in the area, including one that left seven people dead, all part of the continuing feud by rival cartel members, according to the Times.
ATF officials declined to discuss the matter with the Times.
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