103.9 FM WDKX
Your #1 Radio for R&B
What's Playing Now
What Played Earlier Today
103.9 WDKX Live
REQUEST A SONG!
Request A Song
Controversial federal sting operations that lure in suspects with the promise of a huge payoff for robbing a fake drug stash house may be unfairly targeting racial minorities, the chief federal judge in Chicago said this week.
U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo said in an order filed late Wednesday that there is "a strong showing of potential bias" in the robbery stings, which are run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He noted that, since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.
The order comes a month after a USA TODAY investigation found that the ATF has quietly made fictional stash-house robberies a central feature of its effort to target violent crime, more than quadrupling the number of stings it conducted over the past decade. Although the stings are meant to target some of the nation's most dangerous criminals, they have routinely ensnared small-time crooks who jumped at the chance to score hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs.
Nationwide, the ATF has locked up more than 1,000 people in stash-house operations over the past decade. Still, the tactic has been widely criticized by federal judges and remains so controversial that some federal prosecutors refuse to allow it.
Castillo's two-page order instructed the government to turn over a list of all the people it had charged in stash-house cases in northern Illinois, as well as confidential ATF documents that outline how agents are supposed to conduct the operations, including any guidelines for selecting appropriate targets.
Castillo's order came in a case in which five men are charged with plotting to rob a non-existent drug stash house. As in most of the ATF's other operations, an informant introduced the men to an undercover agent posing as a disgruntled courier who would help them steal 15 to 20 kilograms of cocaine. Agents arrested them in August 2012 when they showed up allegedly to commit the robbery.
Depending on what the records reveal, Castillo's decision could arm defense lawyers to argue that he should throw out the case altogether on the grounds that the government selectively prosecuted racial minorities. They could raise more questions about a brand of undercover operation that has already drawn widespread criticism from federal courts for tactics that skirt the boundaries of entrapment.
Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago and the ATF declined to comment on the order or the allegation that officials had profiled racial minorities. Prosecutors have said in court papers that there has been no evidence of "discriminatory effect or discriminatory intent" behind the stash-house operations.
Defense lawyers urged Castillo to scrutinize the ATF operations because, unlike cases in which police investigate crimes that have happened, the stings give law enforcement wide latitude to select their targets. "These are unique cases in that they exist only when the government creates the fiction that becomes the crime," public defenders Candace Jackson and Denise Hesler wrote in a July 22 court filing.
Castillo, the first Hispanic to serve as chief judge in Chicago, said in the order that "history has shown a continuing difficult intersection between the issue of race and the enforcement of our nation's criminal laws."
Source: USA Today