MILWAUKEE (AP) - More than a year before federal agents conducted a flawed gun-buying sting in Milwaukee, they made a careless mistake in a separate sting targeting cigarette sellers, leaving behind valuable merchandise that was later stolen.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended its cigarette sting in April 2012 and left behind cases of cigarettes with a retail value of about $82,000. A police report said by the time the agents got around to picking up the merchandise, two cases worth about $10,000 were gone, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The theft was captured on video, but the cigarettes haven't been recovered and no one has been charged.
The sting was intended to target cigarette sellers trying to cheat the government out of taxes. Agents sold cigarettes, mostly Marlboros, for $1,500 a case, about one-third less than the typical wholesale price.
Ultimately, nine men were indicted. Five pleaded guilty to conspiracy or withholding information from investigators, two cases are pending, and the other two went to trial this month.
The landlord who rented the warehouse used for the sting said the ATF agents left behind 17 cases of cigarettes when they shut down operations. Anton Keller said he repeatedly called them to pick up the cigarettes because new tenants were moving in. By the time they did so, the newspaper reported, two cases were missing.
The theft is similar to one in a gun-buying sting last fall, in which thieves made off with about $40,000 in clothing, electronics and other merchandise. One undercover agent also had a machine gun and two other guns stolen from his SUV.
Losing property has been an ongoing problem for the ATF. A 2008 report by the Department of Justice inspector general said the agency had significant problems with the loss and theft of weapons, laptop computers, ammunition and other property, and it found that agents failed to maintain accurate and complete property records.
"I acknowledge deficiencies and mistakes in this operation," ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun said of the gun-buying sting effort. "We are reviewing the actions of personnel and appropriate discipline measures will be considered if appropriate."
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