By Marc Caputo, Miami Herald, 10/6/2012
A sensational election-season report into the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation has cast new light on a simultaneous Florida firearms investigation linked to violence in Colombia, Honduras and Puerto Rico.
Called Operation Castaway, the Florida case has received far less attention than Fast and Furious. The latter became an embarrassing distraction for President Barack Obama’s administration when it was implicated in the death of a federal agent and Mexico massacres, according to federal documents and a new cross-border investigative report by the Spanish-language network Univision.
Two Justice Department officials resigned and a dozen more face possible disciplinary action after the September release of a scathing 512-page inspector general’s report that detailed the “seriously flawed” Fast and Furious case in which Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents allowed AK 47-style firearms and other weapons to cross the border into Mexico.
The report never mentions the lesser-known Operation Castaway, and federal agents have pointed out numerous substantive differences with Fast and Furious.
But the Florida man imprisoned in Operation Castaway, Hugh Crumpler III, says in court papers and in the Univision reports that the cases are alike because agents allowed guns to get into the hands of bad guys from Miami to Tampa to Jacksonville.
“There was no difference between Operation Fast and Furious and Operation Castaway,” Crumpler wrote last week in a federal court filing that seeks an early release from his 30-month prison sentence.
Federal agents in Operation Castaway said they intercepted nearly all the weapons he sold and tried to keep them in the country while Crumpler was under investigation. Crumpler’s customers were linked to gangs or cartels from Puerto Rico to Honduras, which is now one of the world’s most violent countries.
By contrast, Fast and Furious was designed to allow guns — about 2,000 — to leave the country. Crumpler admitted he dealt about 1,000 firearms, including the notorious Fabrique Nationale Herstal semiautomatic handguns nicknamed cop-killing matapolicias by cartel thugs who prize their armor-piercing capabilities.
“At no point during Operation Castaway did U.S. law enforcement officials allow illegally purchased firearms to be shipped to Honduras,” William Daniels, a spokesman for the Middle District of Florida’s U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a written statement.
“Specific knowledge about weapons exported by this criminal group to Honduras was developed over the course of the investigation, after the weapons had already been shipped,” he said. “U.S. authorities had no prior knowledge of these shipments.”
The court records clearly show that five guns linked to Castaway made it to crime scenes — including a murder — in Colombia and Puerto Rico. The records don’t indicate whether those guns made it out of the country before or after ATF acknowledged investigating Crumpler on Aug. 29, 2009, about two years after he admittedly first began dealing weapons. Crumpler was arrested in late January 2010.
During the five months ATF monitored Crumpler, he was observed making “apparent” firearms transactions from Orlando to Little Havana. The buyers were not immediately arrested and the records don’t show what happened to them or the weapons, if there were any.
Crumpler met most of the buyers at gun shows in Florida, a hot spot for arming the hemisphere because of the state’s gun-loving culture and Florida’s position as a gateway to Latin America.
“I was the pawn of the government in an unconstitutional operation,” Crumpler said in one court filing.
“I was allowed to perform illegal activities after I should have been contacted by the ATF,” he said. “This was done so that the Obama Administration could enact stricter gun laws based on crimes and evidence in which they participated and created.”
To support his case, Crumpler attached copies of conservative media reports, some of which suggested Obama wanted to limit gun rights by way of the Fast and Furious investigation. Many glossed over the fact that Fast and Furious was based on a Bush-era program, Operation Wide Receiver, that let guns be “walked” across the border starting in 2006.