‘I Smell Cash’: How the ATF Spent Millions of Dollars Unchecked
Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times
BRISTOL, Va. — For seven years, agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives followed an unwritten policy: If you needed to buy something for one of your cases, do not bother asking Washington. Talk to agents in Bristol who controlled a multimillion-dollar account unrestricted by Congress or the bureaucracy.
Need a flashy BMW for an undercover operation? Call Bristol.
A vending machine with a hidden camera? Bristol.
Travel expenses? Take this credit card. It’s on Bristol.
When The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret account in February, publicly available documents made it seem like the work of a few agents run amok. But thousands of pages of newly unsealed records reveal a widespread scheme — a highly unorthodox merger of an undercover law enforcement operation and a legitimate business. What began as a way to catch black-market cigarette dealers quickly transformed into a nearly untraceable ATF slush fund that agents from around the country could tap.