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Originally published December 19, 2013 at 5:58 PM | Page modified December 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

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Former ATF supervisor pleads not guilty in embezzlement case

In a brief appearance in federal court in Seattle, one-time ATF agent James Contreras pleaded not guilty to charges of embezzling informant funds and making false statements to obtain the money.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A former supervisor in the Seattle office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of embezzling money from a fund for confidential informants and making false statements.

The one-time agent, James Contreras, 52, of Maple Valley, entered the plea through his attorney in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Contreras was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle last month on one count of embezzlement and 30 counts of making false statements. The indictment alleged he repeatedly took money from a cash account he supervised.

If convicted, Contreras could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on the embezzlement count and five years for each false-statement count.

The indictment alleged Contreras improperly took $19,700 from an ATF confidential- informant fund he managed. In doing so, Contreras falsified signatures of other agents between March 2010 and April 2012 to obtain funds, according to the indictment.

Money to be paid to 12 informants was never given to them, the indictment said.

Contreras, who jointed the agency in 1999, resigned in June 2012 amid an internal ATF investigation over his handling of a paid informant who sexually abused a woman while working for the ATF, a federal source told The Seattle Times at the time.

Contreras came under scrutiny after a May 2012 Times story about the informant, Joshua Allan Jackson, who was hired despite a lengthy history of violence against women. While working for the ATF, Jackson engaged in criminal activity that included sexually assaulting a young woman in a Seattle motel room paid for by the agency.

The embezzlement case was presented to the grand jury by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco. Federal prosecutors in Seattle were recused from the case to avoid a conflict of interest.

At his brief court appearance Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler allowed Contreras to remain free on his personal recognizance.

As a condition, Theiler ordered Contreras to surrender his passport and have no contact with ATF agents and informants who could be witnesses in the case.

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or On Twitter @stevemiletich

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