Case of Freed Grenades Suspect Played Role in Ouster of US Attorney, ATF Director

The U.S. Justice Department and Congress are probing missteps in a case that played a role in the ouster of U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke of Phoenix and Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), the case involved the June 2010 arrest and release of an Arizona man accused of supplying grenades to a Mexican drug cartel. The suspect, Jean Baptiste Kingery, was freed without charges after spending only hours in custody, the story says. Kingery was arrested in Mexico last week and charged with violating Mexican organized crime laws.

The newspaper’s information is based on interviews with three U.S. officials and others familiar with the case, as well as relevant documents.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office claim the ATF released Kingery because officials hoped to make the suspect an informant, the story says. Prosecutors also claim ATF agents had botched a previous sting operation in which Kingery was allowed to take possession of grenades. ATF agents lost track of Kingery, prosecutors say, and he was able to cross into Mexico.

An ATF agent, on the other hand, claims he “practically begged” prosecutor Emory Hurley for permission to arrest Kingery on a criminal complaint. In any event, the suspect disappeared several weeks after he was freed.

Hurley also oversaw prosecution of cases stemming from Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed suspected smugglers to buy illegal firearms to smuggle to Mexico, the story says. He and Melson both transferred to other duties in the Justice Department after criticism erupted over the botched gun-running probe. Burke says he resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Prior coverage: “US Atty for Ariz. Resigns, Minn. US Atty Promoted in Shake-Up re Botched ATF Gun-Running Probe”

Washington Post: “White House received emails about Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation”

New York Times: “E-Mails Show Three Officials Were Informed of Gun Inquiry”

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