WASHINGTON, DC – Special Agent Vince Cefalu has worked for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms for more than 25 years. On top of successfully placing dozens of hard criminals behind bars throughout his career, Cefalu has received promotions and consistently positive evaluations. When he started raising his voice about ATF corruption and illegal wiretapping in 2005, things changed. Tuesday evening, Cefalu was asked to meet Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Division Joseph Riehl at a Denny’s Restaurant near Lake Tahoe. When he arrived, he was served termination papers in the parking lot. Classy move. The exchange was secretly recorded by a confidential source. David Codrea has more:
The video, shaky at times from being handheld, and with color imbalance streaking happening inadvertently in the uploading to YouTube, was recorded by a confidential source and shows Cefalu approached by two ATF management representatives including Joseph M. Riehl, Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Division, which encompasses Northern California and Nevada field offices.
Riehl, seen talking to Cefalu through his Jeep window and reportedly telling him he couldn’t leave because he had to sign papers, had been criticized on the CUATF forum, and Gun Rights Examiner is attempting to track down audit reports to determine what an independent assessment reveals about the allegations there. But the bottom line is, an employee with over 25 years of service who has been a leading spokesman for whistleblowers was unceremoniously canned in a public parking lot by senior division management.
Cefalu was placed on administrative leave a year and a half ago after speaking out about Operation Fast and Furious. In 2009, he launched the website CleanUpATF.org in order for agents within ATF to blow the whistle on corrupt behavior anonymously due to the agency’s history of retaliation against those who “jump their chain of command.” His website is where bloggers and news reporters first saw allegations of gunwalking. The site is heavily monitored by the Department of Justice.
In the February 2012 issue of Townhall Magazine, Cefalu detailed the ATF corruption leading up to Fast and Furious and his retaliation case coming from inside the bureau that led to his firing this week.
My name is Vincent A. Cefalu. I am a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms under the U.S. Department of Justice. Welcome to our nightmare. I say “our” because dozens of us can’t write a single article, and I have been asked and am privileged to speak on behalf of my peers who have not had the opportunity to voice their concerns related to ATF mismanagement, particularly with Operation Fast and Furious. This grotesquely dangerous and reckless operation should have never been considered, much less allowed to occur. It employed the unprecedented practice of allowing fi rearms to be transferred to violent criminals without any interdiction effort at all, in hopes of somehow later identifying high-level Mexican cartel members. But it was the pattern of gross mismanagement that had been allowed to exist in ATF—and that I witnessed—which fostered an environment that unleashed this operation, violating public trust on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
At no time in my career prior to becoming a complainant against my own agency—the agency I love and have been honored to serve— could I have ever been convinced I would be the poster boy for whistleblowers and challenges to corrupt government. As a young Marine military policeman, I was thrilled, proud and honored to be in law enforcement. I never considered it work….
But I ended up the lead agent in a case with huge vendetta overtones by my state and local counterparts, where members of an ad hoc task force insisted on fast-tracking wiretap attempts against the suspects. I refused. When I reported this officially, senior management retroactively fabricated justifications for the actions they were preparing to take against me. This led to a network of frustrated agents and inspectors, which ultimately resulted in my being contacted regarding the gun-walking practices and cover-ups related to Fast and Furious. I took this information to Congress and advocated others to do the same.
In the 18 months leading up to Fast and Furious, Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell’s actions required that the agency had to pay out over a million dollars in settlements which should have led to his removal for the related conduct, had it ever been investigated and documented. Special Agent in Charge George Gillette had been disciplined multiple times, and his subordinates had logged dozens of complaints related to his incompetence and mismanagement. Had ATF dealt with them at the time, the Fast and Furious program would never have been undertaken. However, by attacking those who exposed corruption, ATF was able to keep their golden boys in place. This process was repeated all over the country (Newell has since been relocated to D.C. headquarters, but not fired). So pronounced was the mismanagement that ATF logged more complaints than either the DEA or FBI per agent. This is notable because the latter two are much larger agencies.
I write this article almost 6 years into the whistleblower process with ATF and only after millions of taxpayer dollars and countless hours of manpower have been expended by my agency to attack and discredit me and other whistleblowers.
The environment at ATF today is one where honest officers cannot act without fear of reprisal from dishonest officers. Such is this agent’s story, and the story of many other whistleblowers, including those involved in Fast and Furious.
Whistleblowers are often put under the supervision of corrupt ATF officials who have the intention of retaliating against them no matter what the circumstances. The Department of Justice has done little to prevent this behavior despite the act of retaliation being illegal and a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
ATF’s termination decision comes just weeks after Senator Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General James Cole about a rift between the Reno ATF Field Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As you may be aware, I recently contacted both Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director B. Todd Jones about allegations from whistleblowers that a breakdown in relations had occurred between ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in Reno, Nevada. I have not yet received a briefing from either of their offices.
The alleged breakdown is illustrated in a declination memorandum from the Reno USAO, which indicates that as of September 29, 2011, the Reno USAO categorically refused to accept any cases submitted by Reno ATF. The declination memo states, “We are willing to consider your cases again when your management addresses and resolves the issues at hand.” Apparently as a consequence, ATF’s Reno Field Office has only opened one case in 2012, as the attached chart indicates.
I have since obtained documents from whistleblowers which indicate that these issues were raised with ATF headquarters and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) almost a year ago. According to one document, ATF agents in Reno notified ATF’s Internal Affairs Division of the issue on October 13, 2011. According to a second document, an ATF agent in Reno notified OPR on October 25, 2011. As you may know, because of ATF and the Reno USAO’s inability to resolve these issues, three ATF line agents and a supervisor were transferred out of Reno in April 2012.
In light of these facts, I am seeking to understand whether Justice Department management was also notified of the problems between ATF and the USAO in Reno, and if so, what actions were taken to rectify these issues. Your office, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG), is responsible for overseeing both ATF and U.S. Attorneys.
Cefalu says he will challenge ATF’s decision. The following was posted on CleanUpATF shortly after the termination was issued.
Well, they’ve finally gone ahead and done it. ATF’s San Francisco hatchet men just served Special Agent Vince Cefalu with termination papers in the parking lot of a Dennys. They did this over a year and half after proposing the termination . Notwithstanding the transparently trumped-up nature of the so-called “charges” in question, proposing a termination and then excuting it over a year and a half later is prima facie evidence that the action is unsustainable and is virtually certain to be reversed on appeal.
Moreover, the allegations used as a basis for the adverse action are laughably unfounded, deliberately fabricated, and relied largely on the testimony of ATF officials who committed easily-provable felony perjury in open court and later in sworn depositions. I herein predict that a number of the people involved in this grotesque act of bald-faced unlawful retaliation and obstruction of justice will do significant jail time before this is all over.
I will also say with confidence that this was by far the stupidest , most ill-advised course of action that they (ATF management) could possibly have taken in this case. Rather than quietly settling what a mediocre first-year law student would recognize to be a Hindenburg of a losing case (for them), ATF just substantially amplified the damages award that Cefalu will, in my opinion, recover at trial. Talk about stepping in it.
It’s well-known that ATF management and their viciously corrupt counsel are, for the most part, brutally self-serving and mean-spirited. But this Cefalu termination is nevertheless surprising in its utter incomprehensibility under the circumstances, from purely legal and elemental federal labor law standpoints. If they had any prayer of making the action stick, they had to do it more than a year ago, before so many additional events have transpired that will render the termination plainly unlawful and inescapably untenable. It’s just plain moronic no matter how you slice it.
It seems apparent that ATF’s leadership at all levels has degenerated to a pathetic state of paroxysmal, shoot-from-the-hip incompetence. They can’t even do the wrong thing right.
Things are far from over.