“Anything for a Buck,” launched in 2011 to take illegal guns off the streets of Escambia County, is among several stings run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that are now under investigation by the Justice Department.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced the probe last week into four ATF storefronts around the country, stemming from an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel written by Raquel Rutledge and John Diedrich.
“We learned through sources about a storefront here in Milwaukee,” said Diedrich. “The way the operation worked here was similar to places. The agents, acting undercover, opened up a storefront with clothing, drug paraphernalia and things of that nature, but what they were interested to do is buy guns and drugs off the street.”
The investigation is also looking at stings in St. Louis and Wichita, Kansas. Undercover ATF agents, along with Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies, ran a storefront operation in the Pensacola area. Seventy-five Escambia and Santa Rosa County residents were arrested and charged with firearms, drug distribution and related offenses as the result of the undercover investigation.
Diedrich says ATF agents hired a known felon, Gary Renaud, to run the storefront in Pensacola which took the form of a pawn shop. The idea was to use Renaud to widen the pool of potential targets, which they hoped would boost arrest numbers.
The operations in Pensacola and Milwaukee did have one common thread, ATF agents overseeing them placed a mentally-challenged man at or near the center of the operation. Jeremy Norris, whose IQ was measured at 76, had no felony record. He was arrested and convicted of weapons charges. Federal Judge Casey Rodgers, citing Norris’ low IQ, sentenced him to probation. Also catching a break, according to the reporting of Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge, was Gary Renaud after the end of the sting.
“He was involved in an incident outside a bar, where he pointed a loaded weapon at somebody,” Diedrich said. “The federal authorities picked up the case, which usually means that you’re going to get a bigger sentence. But instead, the prosecutor that used him in the ‘Anything for a Buck’ operation turned out to be the prosecutor. He (Renaud) ended up getting six months in jail, but that ended up basically house arrest.”
In a written statement, the Escambia County Sheriff’s office says, citing the DOJ press release: “neither the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office nor any other local agency is being investigated by the Department of Justice.”