Two years after bandits killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, visible progress has finally occurred in the criminal cases and internal investigations that exploded afterward.
This week, the straw purchaser of two AK-47-style rifles found at the scene of Terry's death, west of Rio Rico, was sentenced to almost five years in prison. Jaime Avila Jr. was one of seven defendants from the original Operation Fast and Furious sentenced this week.
There has also been one murder conviction: Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who was shot during the gunfight in which Terry died, pleaded guilty on Oct. 30 to first-degree murder in Terry's death. He is awaiting sentencing, while one co-defendant awaits extradition in Mexico, and three other defendants remain fugitives.
Some progress has even occurred in holding accountable the people responsible for the ATF operation that allowed weapons into the hands of those who killed Terry. The Wall Street Journal and others reported this month that four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials have been recommended for firing, and two others have been recommended for discipline.
Terry's cousin, Robert Heyer, said the family still sees a lack of accountability among government officials who conducted Operation Fast and Furious or allowed it to go on despite the operation's allowing up to 2,000 weapons into the hands of cross-border criminals.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Heyer said. "The Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation and the Justice Department inspector general have clearly determined who is responsible within the DOJ, who bears responsibility in the ATF and the USA's office." Most have not been disciplined, he noted.
The attorney for one ATF official, William McMahon, acknowledged that the bureau formally fired McMahon on Nov. 27, though he is appealing. McMahon oversaw ATF's western U.S. region during the operation.
"The circumstances that led to his termination were tied to political pressure arising from partisan interests that were more appropriately directed against executive branch agencies rather than individuals who were simply attempting to serve the perceived best interests of our country," attorney Mark Zaid said in an email.
Attorneys for three other agents named in media reports either would not confirm their clients' status with ATF or did not return calls seeking comment.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and those at the top of the hierarchy have not lost their jobs or otherwise suffered serious consequences as a result of Terry's death or Operation Fast and Furious, noted Art Del Cueto. He contrasted that with the consequences that agents face - and that Terry's death brought home.
"If we mess up on small details or big details or whatever, out in the field, we could die," he said.
On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border
SENTENCES for those linked to case
Federal prosecutors brought charges against 20 people in cases stemming from the ATF gunrunning investigation brought to light by Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's murder. Of those, 15 have been convicted and 13 sentenced. Here are the sentences:
Jaime Avila Jr.: 4 years 9 months
Julio J. Carrillo: 3 years, 10 months
Alfredo Celis: 4 years, 9 months
Jonathan E. Fernandez: 3 years, 1 month
Dejan Hercegovac: 3 years, 4 months
Kristi G. Ireland: 5 years probation
Jacob A. Montelongo: 3 years, 5 months
Joshua D. Moore: 4 years, 9 months
Danny C. Morones: 4 years, 9 months
Jose A. Polanco: 1 year, 6 months
John W. Rowland: 3 years, 1 month
Sean C. Steward: 9 years
Kenneth J. Thompson: 5 years
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org