As the media spotlight continues to fade from the gunrunning program known as Operation Fast and Furious, the body count continues to rise.
Earlier this year, one of the firearms lost in the fatally flawed sting operation was used to murder a Mexican police chief and his bodyguard, according to internal Justice Department records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Also wounded in the gunfight were the police chief’s wife and another bodyguard.
Luis Lucio Rosales Astorga, who was the police chief in the city of Hostotipaquillo, which is in the state of Jalisco, was shot dead on Jan. 29 when a gang of cartel operatives opened fire on his patrol car.
Eight men were arrested in connection with the shooting. Police found various weapons on the men, including high-powered rifles, grenades, handguns, bulletproof vests and special communications equipment, the LA Times reported.
One of the rifles seized during the arrest was a semiautomatic WASR rifle, which was purchased at Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 22, 2010 — when Operation Fast and Furious was in full swing.
Jacob A. Montelongo, 26, a known straw purchaser, bought the WASR rifle under the surveillance of the ATF agents who told the store owner to process the transaction. Ballistics testing revealed that this was the rifle that fired the bullet that killed Astorga.
The DOJ trace records said the WASR was used in a “HOMICIDE – WILLFUL – KILL –PUB OFF –GUN” –ATF code for “Homicide, Willful Killing of a Public Official, Gun,” according to the LA Times.
Montelongo has since been held accountable for his part in the operation. He is currently serving 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, making false statements and smuggling-related charges. In total, during his gunrunning career, Monelongo purchased 109 guns from eight FFLs located in Arizona. He was paid $50 for each pistol, $100 for each rifle and $150 for six .50-caliber rifles.
As for the men who murdered the police chief, they also confessed to using the firearms in two other shootouts with rival cartels. During one shootout, at least seven people were killed.
When asked about the police chief’s murder, the ATF declined to comment, noting that they were still busy compiling a list of the more than 2,000 weapons that were lost as part of Operation Fast and Furious.
Meanwhile, Mexican authorities estimate that as many as 211 people were murdered with guns linked to Fast and Furious. That estimate does not include slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry who was fatally shot by cartel operatives in 2010, near the U.S.-Mexico border. At least one firearm linked to Fast and Furious was found at the scene.
While there have been a number of congressional investigations looking into Operation Fast and Furious, many believe that the whole truth about who knew what and when they knew remains hidden.
In particular, Attorney General Eric Holder’s knowledge of the operation is still a contentious issue in Washington. Last summer, Holder was given a contempt of Congress citation for stonewalling investigators and failing to turn of documents related to the operation. Yet despite this charge, Holder did not fully cooperate leaving one to speculate that the whole truth may never really be known.