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“However, if it helps put you at ease, we are continually monitoring these suspects using a variety of investigative techniques, which I cannot go into [in] detail,” Mr. Voth wrote.

Later, ATF arranged a meeting between the dealer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in Fast and Furious, during which the dealer was again assured that safeguards were in place to prevent further distribution of the weapons.

The dealer had sought assurances after selling more than 300 weapons to straw buyers he knew were Fast and Furious targets. After being told by ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office that the gun buyers and weapons were being continually monitored, he went on to sell an additional 450 guns.

Less than six months later, the ATF confirmed that two WASR-10/63 assault rifles found at the site of the Terry killing had been traced to Jaime Avila Jr., a suspected straw buyer and one of the Fast and Furious targets.

He had bought the weapons, a Romanian variant of the AK-47, at the Lone Wolf Trading Co.

By the time of the shooting, Mr. Avila had been under surveillance for more than two months. It took ATF less than 24 hours to confirm that he had purchased the weapons found at the site of the Terry killing.

The operation was shut down, and Mr. Avila was arrested, along with 19 others named in a federal grand jury indictment on charges of dealing in firearms without a license, making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a weapon, and smuggling goods from the United States.

Trials for the 20 straw-purchase suspects are pending.

Big purchases

Those identified as the straw buyers in Fast and Furious were nothing if they weren’t ambitious. They bought hundreds of high-powered weapons and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although many of the purchased weapons were not top of the line, they weren’t cheap.

According to government records, the straw buyers spent an average of $648 for each AK-47-type assault rifle they bought. The Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles went for more than $6,000 each, and the FN 5.7mm pistols cost an average of $1,130 each.

Uriel Patino, a food-stamps recipient, proved to be the most prolific straw buyer, said the indictment, which alleges that he bought 316 weapons, although congressional investigators said the number might be twice as high. Included were 246 AK-47 assault rifles purchased during 24 visits to two Phoenix-area gun shops over a nine-month period.

Mr. Avila and Mr. Patino, the indictment said, shopped together at the Lone Wolf Trading Co.

According to the 43-page indictment handed up in January, Mr. Patino’s buying habits were aggressive.

On Nov. 24, 2009, he purchased five AK-47 assault rifles; on Dec. 11, 2009, he purchased 20 more; on Jan. 15, 2010, he bought 10 more; on Jan. 30, 2010, he purchased 15 more; on March 15, 2010, he purchased 40 more; on March 25, 2010, he bought an additional 26; on April 27, 2010, he bought 10 FN 5.7mm pistols; on June 10, 2010, he bought an additional 10 AK-47s; and on July 8, 2010, he bought 16 more AK-47s.

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