The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revisited Operation Lost Wolf this week, an investigation that unraveled a South American gun smuggling ring.
In an 8-minute short released this week by the agency on the 2004 case, agent Ali Berisha relates how he was called to the scene of a flooded warehouse in Miami after two boxes of Bushmaster AR-15 lower receivers fell from a ceiling and cracked a toilet.
“Upon inspecting the receivers, we saw that they were drilled — the serial numbers were drilled on both sides,” said Berisha, going on to say that when tested they were found to be illegally converted to select-fire. Subsequent investigation at the site turned up Norinco AK-pattern rifles in garbage bags and Wolf-brand ammo boxed and sealed inside freezers.
The multi-agency investigation eventually focused on two Miami-Dade residents from Venezuela, Raul Demolina and Rafael Samper; Joseph Ruiz, a gun shop owner; and Rodney Sharp of Homestead. In all, at least seven individuals were charged at the end of the operation during which the feds believed the guns and ammo were intended for the two rival groups locked in a struggle in South America– the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
In all, some 700,000 rounds of ammunition were seized as well as over 200 firearms. Ultimately a number of the defendants plead guilty to their role in the operation although one, Sharp, fled to China. The group was estimated to have made $4 million in profit while in operation, fueled by extreme markups on munitions resold to overseas buyers.
It should be noted that Lost Wolf took place two years before the first of ATF’s Project Gunrunner “gun-walking” investigations– which grew into the infamous operations Fast and Furious, and Wide Receiver– aimed to track guns and ammunition headed across the border with Mexico, were established.