Did the U.S. Government Supply the Gun that Killed Jaime Zapata?ver1

by Published on

Operation Fast and Furious—the Arizona-based federal gun-tracking program that led to the death of a U.S. agent at the hands of Mexican criminals—could be underway in Texas, too, and may have led to the death of Laredo immigration agent Jaime Zapata.

Fast and Furious, launched in autumn 2009, allowed illegal guns to travel, or “walk,” into Mexico so federal agents could track Mexican drug cartel activity. The problem is that the U.S. lost track of hundreds of guns. Some wound up at the scenes of drug cartel murders, and even next to the body of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot and killed while patrolling the Arizona desert last year.

Fast and Furious was run out of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. There is startling evidence that a similar scheme could be occurring in Texas. According to an October 2011 investigation by Houston NBC affiliate KPRC, employees at a Houston gun shop named Carter’s Country alleged that they were asked by Houston ATF agents in 2006 to sell guns to suspicious purchasers and notify ATF so agents could observe the purchases. Carter’s Country employees say they complied with the request, adding that at least 6 of the 16 times they called during a suspicious sale, ATF agents never showed, but told Carter’s Country to make the sale anyway.

These sales continued into December 2010, when a Carter’s Country salesman became the subject of a Houston grand jury investigation due to a criminal complaint filed by ATF. That prompted Carter’s Country to pull the plug and hire high-powered defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.

ATF officials refused to be interviewed on-camera by KPRC, but told reporter Robert Arnold that Carter’s Country may have “misconstrued” the bureau’s request for help as a gun-walking operation. DeGuerin and Carter’s Country stuck to their story, and in March 2011, on the heels of the shooting death of Laredo Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico, DeGuerin received word that ATF was dropping the case. “We stood to embarrass them, meaning the ATF, for being hypocritical, two-faced, and turning against the very people who were trying to help them,” DeGuerin said.

And what of the murder of special agent Zapata, who was shot and killed in Mexico in February 2011? That gun was traced back to gun dealers near Dallas.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about Zapata’s death. That went unanswered. So in August Cornyn asked Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leaders of the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious, to launch an inquiry into whether ATF ever conducted Texas-based gun-walking operations.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 8, Cornyn attempted to grill Holder about Fast and Furious, but the AG did his best to paint the questioning as partisan bickering. Unable to name one person in his department who was disciplined over the operation, Holder left the American people with more questions than answers.

Why did ATF drop the charges against Carter’s Country? Why did the Department of Justice wait more than five months to arrest three men in suburban Dallas it knew were gun dealers? Why did the arrests come two weeks after Zapata was killed, when, as Issa and Grassley found, ATF knew the men were trafficking guns long before they bought the weapon tied to the Zapata murder?

Jaime Zapata’s mother, Mary Zapata-Muñoz, has her own thoughts about the mystery surrounding her son’s death:

“I hope that it’s not a cover up. I pray that the weapon that killed my son didn’t come from the United States and was allowed to travel to Mexico. A few days after [Jaime] passed away, he came to me in a dream. And he pointed to his lips and he said, ‘Mom, I cannot speak. You have to speak for me. Seek justice. Make sure that another person does not have to go through what I went through.’”

I hope the same as Mrs. Zapata-Muñoz, but it sure doesn’t look good.

Cindy Casares is a columnist for the Texas Observer. She is also the founding Editor of Guanabee Media, an English-language, pop culture blog network about Latinos established in 2007. She has a Master's in Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Prior to her career in journalism, she spent ten years in New York City as an advertising copywriter. During her undergraduate career at the University of Texas she served under Governor Ann Richards as a Senate Messenger during the 72nd Texas Legislature.