Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was pressed Wednesday by Republican lawmakers for more information on the February killing of a U.S. agent in Mexico and the prison sentence given last week to another U.S. agent for using unreasonable force in the detention of a suspected drug smuggler.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned Mr. Holder in a letter about “inconsistent statements by the Justice Department” regarding the source of weapons used in the ambush killing of Jamie Zapata, an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lawmakers said three straw purchasers - Kelvin Morrison and brothers Otilio Osorio and Ranferi Osorio - were known to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives long before one of the guns they purchased was linked to the Zapata killing.
To make matters worse, Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa wrote, documents show that ATF failed for more than three months to create a “Report of Investigation” on the Nov. 9, 2010, transfer of firearms between three men and a confidential informant, witnessed by ATF agents. The report, they said, was written Feb. 25, 2011 - the same day ATF traced “the Zapata murder weapon back to the purchase by Otilio Osorio.”
In a separate letter Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California asked the attorney general to review the prosecution of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jesus E. Diaz Jr., sentenced last week to two years in prison for what the Justice Department described as his use of unreasonable force in the detention of a 15-year-old drug-smuggling suspect.
“I believe you owe it to the men and women of our nation’s Border Patrol and other law enforcement to set the record straight and explain why a two-year prison term is an appropriate punishment against Agent Diaz when smugglers and criminals are doing everything they can to evade our nation’s security to illegally enter the U.S.,” Mr. Hunter wrote.
“I hope you will think about what this type of decision means to those who are protecting our borders and provide a thorough explanation based on the concerns I have raised.”
Mr. Hunter noted that the same Texas federal prosecutors in the Diaz case “unapologetically led the prosecution against Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean,” who shot a suspected drug smuggler in the buttocks after he fled into Mexico, abandoning a van with 800 pounds of marijuana.
Ramos and Compean were sentenced, respectively, to 11- and 12-year prison sentences, which later were commuted by President George W. Bush after they each had served two years.
“I’m certain that you will disagree, but there are striking similarities between the Ramos and Compean conviction and the Justice Department’s case against Border Patrol Agent Jesus E. Diaz,” he wrote, “For doing his job, Diaz was sentenced to two years in prison.”
He said the case proceeded against Diaz even though Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional responsibility cleared Diaz of any wrongdoing.
Diaz was prosecuted and convicted on one count of excessive force and five counts of perjury for lying to investigators from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Internal Affairs, who ultimately investigated the case. The suspected teenage drug smuggler was given immunity to testify in the case. Agents found 150 pounds of marijuana at the arrest site.
In the Zapata case, Otilio Osorio, 22, and his brother, Ranferi, 27, were arrested on charges of possessing firearms with an obliterated serial number. Mr. Morrison, 25, was charged with making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms and dealing in firearms without a license.
According to one affidavit filed in the case, one of the three firearms used in the Feb. 15, 2011, assault of Zapata that was seized by Mexican officials has been traced by ATF to Otilio Osorio, who allegedly purchased the firearm Oct. 10, 2010, in the Dallas area. Ballistic testing by Mexican authorities indicated that it was one of the three firearms used during the deadly assault.
In their letter, Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa said that despite ATF denials, the agency had reason to believe as early as September 2010 that the three men were “straw buyers” working for Mexican drug gangs but made no effort to contact them or inquire about how their weapons came to be trafficked to Mexico within two weeks of purchase. They also said ATF had an opportunity to arrest the three men during a staged operation Nov. 9, 2010, but failed to do so.
The two lawmakers said the three men “unloaded” 40 firearms with obliterated serial numbers into the vehicle of a confidential informant who was under surveillance but there were no arrests.