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ATF whistleblower’s revenge case settled

Mediated resolution details private

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent who blew the whistle on the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation and, according to lawmakers, was threatened with losing his job has successfully resolved a retaliation claim.

ATF agent Peter Forcelli settled the claim, according to Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, through an OSC-overseen mediation process in which a neutral third party — in this case an independent OSC mediator — assisted the opposing parties in reaching a voluntary, negotiated resolution.

The resolution is confidential under OSC mediation rules.

OSC is an independent agency that oversees whistleblower claims. ATF declined comment, citing an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the Fast and Furious operation.

“I commend Mr. Forcelli for his courage in coming forward, and I applaud both him and ATF for their good-faith efforts to reach resolution of these issues,” Ms. Lerner said. “This is a testament to the ability of mediation to resolve complex cases.”

Mr. Forcelli, assigned to the ATF’s Phoenix field office, where the Fast and Furious operation was centered, told a House committee in June 2011 that agency supervisors had allowed weapons — including semi-automatic rifles — to be “provided to individuals whom they knew would traffic them” to Mexican drug cartels.

He said the ATF did so “by failing to lawfully interdict weapons” it knew were going to Mexican drug smugglers and “by encouraging” gun dealers to continue to sell weapons destined for delivery to the smugglers.

He told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the operation “endangered the American public” and confirmed that both U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor, agreed with the direction of the operation.

“Allowing firearms to be trafficked to criminals is a dangerous and deadly strategy,” he testified. “The thought that the techniques used in the Fast and Furious investigation would result in taking down a cartel, given the toothless nature of the straw purchasing law and the lack of a firearms-trafficking statute, is, in my opinion, delusional.”

Following his House testimony, Mr. Forcelli and another ATF whistleblower, John Dodson, were assigned to work under an ATF supervisor who two lawmakers said threatened retaliation. In a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, the lawmakers, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, who initiated the Fast and Furious probe, and Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, who headed the House investigation, quoted that supervisor, Scot Thomasson, division chief of the Firearms Operations Unit, as saying, “We need to get whatever dirt we can on [Mr. Dodson and Mr. Forcelli] and take them down.”

Mr. Dodson had gone public about Fast and Furious in a February 2011 interview with CBS News. He later testified before Congress with Mr. Forcelli.

“It is difficult to understand why ATF leadership would put two of these courageous whistleblowers at the mercy of an individual who made such reckless, irresponsible and inaccurate comments about them 18 months ago,” Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa wrote.

Of the more than 2,000 weapons delivered to Mexico, nearly 1,000 remain unaccounted for. Two AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifles purchased during the operation were found at the site of the shooting death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. Operation Fast and Furious began in 2009 and continued to the day after Terry’s death on Dec. 14, 2010.

Mr. Forcelli, a retired New York Police Department detective who joined ATF in June 2001, told the committee that agents in Phoenix “with the concurrence of their local chain of command” allowed weapons to be delivered to persons they knew would turn them over to Mexican drug smugglers. He said they did so knowing that no interdiction efforts were planned. He said when he voiced his “surprise and concern” to his supervisors, Special Agent in Charge William Newell and Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett, they were dismissed.

“Newell referred to the [operation] as ‘groundbreaking’ and bragged that ‘we’re the only people in the country doing this,’” he testified.

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