SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Operation 'Wide receiver' - Tucson News Now

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Operation 'Wide receiver'

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Tucson gun dealer Mike Detty was to sell guns with the expectation they would be tracked, assets would be seized and a Mexican cartel would be taken down. Tucson gun dealer Mike Detty was to sell guns with the expectation they would be tracked, assets would be seized and a Mexican cartel would be taken down.
"A young man bought six lowers for AR-15s. That's the lower part with the serial number on it. And he came back the next day and asked if I had more," Detty says. "A young man bought six lowers for AR-15s. That's the lower part with the serial number on it. And he came back the next day and asked if I had more," Detty says.
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

We've all heard about Operation Fast and Furious and how federal authorities illegally let guns walk into Mexico.

What we haven't heard about is the operation that started it all ... right here in Tucson.

It's called Operation Wide Receiver, a much smaller version of its more well-known successor -though just as botched, according to at least one former ATF informant.

You could make the argument the lion's share of Operation Fast and Furious took place in our backyard: from the Phoenix field office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; to gun shows right here in Tucson; all  the way up until the day Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot and killed by Mexican bandits near Peck Canyon, just north of the border. 

What these all have in common is a calculated effort by federal law enforcement allowing American weapons into Mexico.

Agent Terry was killed by one of these very weapons.

Sadly, the death toll is only going to continue.

"That's an actual 'lower' and that's what these guys were buying," says Tucson gun dealer Mike Detty, holding the business end of $1,500 AR-15 assault rifle.

Detty speaks from experience.

When he says 'these guys' - he's referring to cartel representatives who came straight to his Tucson home to buy high-powered weapons like AR-15.

"A young man bought six lowers for AR-15s. That's the lower part with the serial number on it. And he came back the next day and asked if I had more," Detty says.

As a federally licensed gun dealer, Detty did the mandatory background check on the Hispanic young man, looking to buy all these guns.

The check came back clean.

And over the next week or so, this man bought 26 AR-15s.

All cash.

No questions asked.

That's when Detty started to think twice about his new client's intentions.

"So the following Monday morning I contacted an agent at the Tucson headquarters for ATF downtown, the federal building," Detty says.  "And he asked me to come in, bring my paperwork and talk with him. That was the beginning of Operation Wide Receiver."

Operation Wide Receiver started in 2006 and predated Fast and Furious by about two years.

This became an operation, Detty says, because the ATF immediately recognized he was dealing with a Mexican cartel representative.

This man had endless resources, and the ATF wanted to find out where all that money was coming from.

That's when they asked Detty to work for them as a secret informant.

He was to sell as many guns to these people as they wanted.

All with the expectation the guns would be tracked, assets would be seized and this particular cartel would be taken down.

"I was asked, I was recruited to help take down a cartel and I believed that's what I was doing," Detty says.

Over the next six months, Detty would sell at least 400 assault rifles and .38 Specials to cartel representatives.

Tens of thousands of dollars regularly changing hands in Detty's own living room.

The former US Marine felt this was his duty as an American patriot -- to honor his country and do whatever it takes to make it a safer place.

Conversations were recorded, even videotaped by hidden cameras in Detty's home.

He wanted to help bring down a powerful drug operation.

But as weeks turned to months and months turned to years, he eventually realized this was not going to happen.

Fast forward five years to early 2011, as US officials dealt with the backlash of agent Brian Terry's death and subsequent Fast and Furious investigation.

"AFT is supposed to stop criminals from trafficking guns," said Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  "Instead the ATF made it easier."

"We just knew it wasn't going to end well ... there's no way it could," said ATF special agent John Dodson, who eventually blew the whistle on the entire operation.

"There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that's the case, then we'll find out," said President Barack Obama.

Sadly for Mike Detty, that day may never come.

Operation Wide Receiver yielded a grand total of nine arrests.

None of them high-ranking cartel members, only foot soldiers charged with lying on background checks.

No organization was brought down.

No record seizures of drugs or bank accounts.

But what's worse, Detty says, is the attempted cover-up by the federal government.

Had agent Terry not been killed, we may have never known about the calculated effort of letting guns walk into Mexico.

Even then, the government denied all responsibility.

For that, Mike Detty has lost a lot of faith in the country he so proudly used to protect.

"That incensed me because I knew immediately that there was a cover up. And if there was a cover up, it was because they were doing something wrong. They'd been caught -- and I refuse to be part of it," Detty says.

We asked ATF officials in Washington DC if they had any comment about Mike Detty's story.

They told us as a matter of policy, they will not comment on any current of former ATF informant so as to protect their safety.

As you might imagine, Mike Detty doesn't exactly believe that statement.

He talks about that at length is his new book "Guns Across the Border" which is expected to go to print in just a few weeks.

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