Justice Department launches multi-state search for stolen firearms

Washington — The Justice Department launched a multi-state search Tuesday for firearms and firearms parts stolen from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) facility, sources familiar with the situation told CBS News.

The chief concern, the sources added, is that the weapons may fall into the wrong hands. Along with staging a criminal and internal affairs investigations, ATF officials have also notified the Justice Department’s inspector general — who, in the past, has been critical of some ATF weapons disposal procedures.

Authorities have one suspect in custody, who they’ve identified as Christopher Lee Yates. According to court documents, officials found “a firearm concealed in a book bag on the front passenger seat floorboard” when they searched his vehicle on March 1.

Agents later determined the pistol had a serial number on it. The ATF computer system confirmed that the firearm had been listed as “disposed” by the ATF’s National Disposal Branch on August 2017.

Efforts to track down any more stolen firearms intensified over the weekend. On Sunday night, officials sent a communication urging stepped up efforts to locate any stolen firearms from the facility.  They were concerned that buyers may not know where they originated.

ATF Spokesperson April Langwell confirmed that the contractor who was involved was “quickly removed” and that a criminal investigation has begun.

According to an inspector general report released in March 2018, the destruction of firearms and ammunition is supposed to be “witnessed by an ATF Special Agent and a credentialed employee or contractor who then signs a report of destruction certifying that the firearm has been destroyed.” That same report identified concerns about ATF’s “ability to track seized ammunition.”

ATF officials said there could be more arrests but don’t know how many firearms or firearms parts were stolen.

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