Feds Rebuke Bloomberg; ‘Sting’ Probe Underway
by Dave Workman
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2006 gun shop “sting” operation against out-of-state firearms dealers is the subject of an “ongoing ATF investigation,” and the Big Apple mayor’s office has been cautioned against further such activities because of “potential legal liabilities.”
The revelations came when the contents of two separate letters, one written to the Second Amendment Foundation by an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the other sent to Bloomberg’s office by the director of the executive office for United States Attorneys at the Department of Justice, were reported by SAF and The New York Daily News.
Gun Week has obtained copies of both letters.
SAF founder Alan Gottlieb said the disclosures reinforce claims by gun rights activists that Bloomberg’s attack on gun shops last year was a “rogue operation” which he lacked legal authority to launch.
In a letter to Gottlieb, W. Larry Ford, assistant director for Public and Governmental Affairs at ATF, said the sting operation is under investigation.
“ATF is investigating the matter to determine if violations of Federal firearms laws occurred,” Ford revealed.
He could offer no specifics, because the investigation is still in progress. But Gottlieb considered it a small victory in response to a letter he sent last August to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling for an investigation and possible prosecution of Bloomberg for obstruction of justice.
An even bigger victory came 24 hours later when The Daily News reported that Michael Battle, director of the executive office for United States Attorneys, had sent a letter to Bloomberg’s Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, cautioning against any further gun stings. In his letter, the newspaper reported, Battle announced that the Justice Department will not be prosecuting any of the 15 gun dealers targeted by Bloomberg’s sting because allegations against the dealers “do not rise to a level that would support a criminal prosecution.”
Battle further cautioned Bloomberg’s administration against mounting any operations that actually fall within federal jurisdiction. The newspaper described the letter as a “stern rebuke” to the Bloomberg administration for having conducted the sting “without proper law enforcement authority.”
In his letter to Feinblatt, Battle pulled no punches criticizing the nature of Bloomberg’s gun sting, explaining, “…you should be aware that there are potential legal liabilities that may attach when persons outside of law enforcement undertake actions typically reserved for law enforcement agents. This risk is particularly acute when such persons, however well-intentioned, but without proper law enforcement authority, misrepresent that they are the actual purchasers of the firearms when, in fact, the purchases are being made on behalf of another person or entity (for instance, on behalf of the City). In addition, civilian efforts can unintentionally interrupt or jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations.”
Last year, Bloomberg dispatched private investigators to five different states in an effort to find illegal gun transactions. Those investigators allegedly engaged in straw man sales, which are illegal under federal law, to identify rogue gun dealers. Instead, critics called Bloomberg’s operation a “rogue enterprise.”
Bloomberg made considerable political hay last year by launching 15 civil lawsuits against the targeted gun dealers. But his office initially refused to turn over information gathered in the investigation to the ATF or other authorities. Instead, Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino followed the sting operation with their launch of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), a coalition of American mayors that seemed to rally around Bloomberg’s gun control agenda. More than 150 mayors joined the group, but that was before things began unraveling for Bloomberg.
“We’re delighted that ATF is taking this matter seriously,” Gottlieb said. “Nowhere in state or federal statute does the mayor of New York or any other municipality have the authority to launc
h such a rogue investigation, especially one that extends beyond his jurisdiction.”
While many gun rights activists doubt that criminal charges will ever be brought against the billionaire mayor, revelations of federal scrutiny might give pause to other municipalities to attempt similar operations. Meanwhile, The New York Sun reported that Bloomberg’s administration plans to pursue the civil lawsuits it has filed.
Gottlieb cautioned other mayors against continued involvement with Bloomberg’s group.
“Bloomberg has beguiled scores of his colleagues to join this anti-gun enterprise,” Gottlieb observed. “This is an area of serious criminal investigation in which municipal mayors have absolutely no business interjecting themselves, especially for a political sound bite.
“Every one of these city leaders is now linked to this misadventure,” he said. “These mayors let their anti-gun bias, rather than good sense, lull them into joining and supporting what is becoming a colossal blunder, and now might be a good time to reconsider that participation.”
From the outset, Gottlieb has referred to the Bloomberg “sting” as a “vigilante operation.” He told Gun Week that he is confident ATF “is doing its job in a slow, deliberate and painstaking manner.”
Upon learning of Battle’s letter to Bloomberg, Gottlieb said it appears the mayor’s “house of cards is starting to crumble.”
“It is both sad and revealing,” Gottlieb said, “that more than 150 mayors around the country have been drawn into Bloomberg’s folly by joining his anti-gun mayors’ coalition. That group’s launching pad was this bogus gun sting, which is now imploding.”
The Daily News quoted Deputy New York Mayor Ed Skyler, who insisted that the “city hasn’t violated any laws.” He also intimated the sting operations might not be over, though it has been almost a year since the 2006 enterprise.
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