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Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
5 charged in U.S. border agent's killing
By Sari Horwitz
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The FBI offered a $1 million reward Monday for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives charged in the killing of a border agent whose death is at the center of a Washington showdown over a botched gun-trafficking operation.
The announcement came as the Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging the four men, along with a suspect who is in custody, in the killing of the agent, Brian Terry, who was shot while on patrol in an Arizona canyon in December 2010.
The indictment did not mention "Fast and Furious," the controversial gun-trafficking operation run by the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
But it was Terry's death that led to a congressional investigation of the operation and, more recently, a vote in the House of Representatives to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
During the two-year operation, ATF agents watched as hundreds of weapons were purchased by gun-trafficking suspects.
Some agents testified they were ordered to let the guns "walk," so the agency could trace the weapons to a firearms-trafficking ring.
But several of their supervisors have said they never allowed gun-walking but were told by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Phoenix that they did not have enough evidence to seize the guns.
About 2,000 guns linked to the suspects hit the streets in the United States and Mexico. Two guns tied to the operation were found where Terry died.
In the indictment unsealed Monday and handed up in Tucson, the five charged were identified as Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portiollo-Meza. Osorio-Arellanes was arrested the night of the shooting; the others remain at large.
Authorities say the men entered the United States illegally from Mexico for the purpose of robbing drug traffickers.
The bullet that killed Terry, 40, was so damaged that the FBI was unable to definitively link either of the two firearms found at the scene to his death, according to a law-enforcement official involved in the investigation.
But lawmakers tied Terry's death to the botched Phoenix gun operation after it was discovered that the serial numbers on the semiautomatic rifles matched guns bought by a suspect charged in the Fast and Furious case, Jaime Avila.
Law-enforcement officials say the ATF never actually "watched" those particular guns being bought and could never have seized them. They say that an employee of the store where those firearms were bought did not notify the ATF until after the guns were purchased and were in the trafficking pipeline.
"You tell me how the ATF caused the death of Brian Terry under any rational view of the uncontroverted facts," said Paul Pelletier, an attorney for William Newell, the ATF special agent in charge of the Phoenix office who oversaw Fast and Furious.
But Jason Foster, the chief investigator for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said Avila had been suspected by the ATF of trafficking and that agents could have questioned him or searched his residence.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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