Op-ed as submitted to the Chicago Tribune below; published October 26, 2021.
By Chris Bayless
Balancing the equation; response to Chicago Tribune’s reporting on ATF’s “fake” stash house sting cases
Call it the “Stash House” tactic – a group of hardened criminals with tough backgrounds are invited to rob a location where dealers keep their drugs. They know it’s a good opportunity because robbing dealers always is – this is one group whose members don’t call the cops when they get ripped off. The robbers come armed and ready to kill.
But the whole thing is a trap set for unwary criminals: agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are waiting, and the team of would-be robber-killers are under arrest.
There’s been a lot of criticism lately, in this newspaper and elsewhere, of this kind of operation. Some call it entrapment, and taxpayers should ask questions about the work of law enforcement, and expect transparency and accountability. But now you should hear the other side. I’m here to argue that not only is this law enforcement technique lawful, but it has taken many violent people off the streets and saved lives. I know because, again and again, I’ve risked my life doing it.
I am a retired ATF Special Agent with 30-years of law enforcement experience. I have personally been involved in more than 100 stash house cases across the country, either executing them or reviewing the work of others. Agents involved in these operations willingly put their lives in harm’s way to safeguard communities that have been ravaged and preyed upon by some of the most violent people I have ever encountered.
Defense attorneys claim agents created the entire criminal scheme and invited people to commit robbery – in a sense, making an irresistible offer to someone with few other economic opportunities.
The truth? The “scheme” was not created by ATF. Stash houses have always been targets. The stash house stings rely upon informants who identify hardened criminals who have already put the word out they want to continue their criminal careers.
That’s how it was when we executed stash house operations in 2009 in Phoenix, Ariz., which was experiencing a wave of home invasions at drug locations, often with deadly results. In all, we made 70 arrests.
Responding to defense claims that this was entrapment, which she dismissed, District Court Judge Murguia said, “The government did not invent the concept of robbing a stash house. In a general sense, the criminal enterprise of robbing stash houses was already well underway in Phoenix before the government even began its investigation.”
Is providing an opportunity to commit a crime entrapment when the person eagerly says yes? And agrees to kill the armed stash house guards if necessary? And brings along his own deadly – and illegal —- firearm?
Gang members even plan to kill the undercover agents making the arrangements (unaware of course, that they were agents). Here is the solution one would-be stash house robber proposed for getting rid of one undercover’s body:
“When you take him to the river, all you got to do is poke about 10 holes in the mother fucker’s stomach, believe me he’ll sink, they’re not coming back up. Only reason people float back up is because gas blows them up. Poke 10 holes in the motherfucker, believe me, he’ll stay down with the fishes.”
You want to know something funny? He’s talking about me.
In 2012, ATF’s specialized resources were requested to execute stash house operations by the police chief in Oakland, Calif., after three toddlers had been slain the year before and violent crime in Oakland had risen in 2012 by 20%.
After four months of a multi-agency effort and intense undercover work on the most violent offenders, robbery crews and criminal organizations working the streets of Oakland, shootings had been cut in half and homicides had dropped from 14 one month to five the next.
“This operation has had a significant impact in reducing gun violence in Oakland, and shows our community the level of cooperation and support that we will continue to receive from our federal law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” -Oakland Police Chief, Howard Jordan.
In 2013, we took our specialized resources to St. Louis. Although the stash house cases continued to receive intense scrutiny by the courts, law enforcement and the St. Louis communities also realized the benefits of these operations.
In four months, more than 50 operations were undertaken that resulted in Federal charges against 149 defendants and 267 guns seized. Of those 267 guns, some were traced to other crimes. Of those charged, 78% were convicted felons who had amassed more than 500 previous convictions between them.
United States Attorney Steve Wigginton said the effort targeted the “worst of the worst offenders” by bringing in the “best of the best from across the nation” and US Attorney Richard Callahan called it the most “seamless” and “professional” operation he has ever seen.
Defense attorneys in Chicago have alleged that the program disproportionately targeted black men. The truth is that the racial breakdown of those arrested in the stash house operations mirrors the racial breakdown of those arrested in all major crimes.
“We, along with our law enforcement partners and private citizens know from personal experience that taking violent offenders off of the streets does prevent violent crime and saves lives. It also gives the private citizens respite from those who ravage and prey upon their communities. To me, that is an end that justifies the means.”
Chris Bayless is a retired ATF Special Agent with 30-years of law enforcement experience, specializing in and awarded for his advanced undercover work. He has conducted hundreds of undercover operations infiltrating motorcycle gangs, white supremacist groups, organized crime types, street gangs, and stash house robbery crews. His work took him to the highest crime-ridden cities throughout the country to arrest and convict the most violent criminals. Chris teaches undercover tactics and techniques at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, GA. Chris is sought out by state, local, federal and international agencies, as well as a variety of media outlets, for his insights on violent crime.