Documents Confirm ATF Surveillance In U.S. Before Gun Found In Mexico

ATF agents

USA –-( Trial testimony transcripts and a press release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show an El Paso gun dealer was cooperating with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in its surveillance of suspected gun traffickers as part of a joint eight-month operation between ICE and ATF, documents received and being analyzed this week by Gun Rights Examiner reveal. These materials received from a source close to the case of FBI agent John Shipley, an active collector convicted of dealing in firearms without a license, further reveal evidence of guns being smuggled to Mexico following ATF-monitored activities by suspects under extended surveillance.

In yesterday’s report, this column walked through two documents illustrating how a former deputy Shipley sold a Barrett rifle to, Armando Rodriguez, reportedly placed it on consignment with a Federal Firearms Licensee, how the gun was sold and physically transferred to then-suspected trafficker Jonatan Lopez-Gutierrez, who had a Juarez, CH, address on his driver license, and how the money and proof of delivery, consisting of a photocopy of the buyer’s license and a handwritten acknowledgment of receipt, were then given to the seller where they were later recovered in a search of his home.

Today’s report, consisting of documents identified as #3, #4 and #5, will lay out the evidence that the dealer was cooperating with ATF in identifying and reporting on suspects being watched, establishing that it was well within the capability and power of agents to arrest the traffickers and intercept the gun Shipley sold before it was smuggled into Mexico, something that was later exploited with great effect by the prosecution to condemn the defendant in the eyes of the jury. For reference, those documents have been posted in this columnist’s Scribd account.

Document #3 is titled “Betty Lee’s Trial Testimony.” Mrs. Lee is the wife of Paul Lee, the FFL, and proprietor of Collector’s Gun Exchange in El Paso, where the Barrett transfer to Lopez took place.

“She admits that the ATF told her Lopez and [John] Avelar [one of two other men arrested with Lopez for trafficking] were under ATF surveillance,” a source close to the Shipley case told Gun Rights Examiner. “She stated that she didn’t know how long, so we must refer to Document #4, page 2, lines 4 and 5, as well as Document #5 to answer if ATF had Lopez under surveillance on 12/19/07 when he purchased the Barrett [at] Collector’s Gun Exchange.

“Betty Lee testified that the ATF asked them…to call the ATF if Lopez or Alvarez came into their store. Betty Lee testified that they did, the source continued. “[She] testified that Collector’s Gun Exchange did everything they could to cooperate with the ATF with respect to Lopez and Alvelar.”

Document #4, referred to above by the source as a way to establish a timeline, is the trial testimony of Wiley Heath, an employee of Collector’s Gun Exchange, working for Paul and Betty Lee.

“Heath testified that he was aware [the store] was assisting the ATF investigation of Avelar and Lopez,” the source continued. “Heath testified that [Collector’s] was assisting the ATF with their investigation on Lopez for six months or more prior to the arrest in March 2008.

“According to Heath’s testimony, [Collector’s] had been assisting the ATF since at least October of 2007,” the source pointed out. “This is important because it proves that Collector’s Gun Exchange would have known of the ATF investigation on Lopez on 12/19/07 when Lopez bought Barrett #20488.

“This also means that Collector’s Gun Exchange would not have sold the Barrett without ATF’s authorization and that Lopez was under ATF surveillance when he bought the Barrett,” the source concluded, adding “Heath testified that Collector’s Gun Exchange alerts the ATF is somebody comes in and does something out of the ordinary or strange. This would include a Mexican resident buying a .50 caliber Barrett for $8,000 cash, not completing an ATF Form 4473 [federal Firearms Transaction Record], signing a photocopied receipt, and receiving the Barrett in the parking lot of Collector’s Gun Exchange.”

Document #5 is the March 21, 2008 ICE press release detailing the joint operations with ATF resulting in the arrest of Lopez and associates.

“Paragraph #3 states ‘The Eight-Month Joint Investigation,’” the source noted. “According to ICE and the ATF, that would mean that the Lopez investigation started in August 2007.

“That is five months prior to Lopez buying the Barrett at Collector’s Gun Exchange on 12/19/07,” the source observed. “This is another piece of evidence that shows Lopez was under ATF investigation and surveillance when he bought the Barrett…It also corroborates Wiley Heath’s testimony that Collector’s Gun Exchange had been assisting the ATF with the Lopez investigation for six months or more.”

This story will be continued tomorrow on Gun Rights Examiner with ATF’s Report of Investigation on Lopez, to include the mysterious individual who brought the Barrett .50 to him in the Collector’s Gun Exchange parking lot.

UPDATE: See next installment, “Reports point to ATF oversight and authorization of illegal rifle sale.”

About David Codrea

David Codrea is a long-time gun rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He is a field editor for GUNS Magazine, and a blogger at The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance. Read more at

David Codrea