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WASHINGTON (AP) — Government agents acting without authorization conducted dozens of undercover investigations of illegal tobacco sales, misused some of $162 million in profits from the stings and lost track of at least 420 million cigarettes, the Justice Department's inspector general said Wednesday.
The audit described widespread lack of ATF oversight and inadequate paperwork in the agency's "churning investigations," undercover operations that use proceeds from illicit cigarette sales to pay for the ATF's costs. The audit came as a new blow to a beleaguered agency still reeling from congressional inquiries into the ATF's flawed handling of the Operation Fast and Furious weapons tracking probes in Mexico.
One of those sting operations did not have any approval, either from the ATF or the Justice Department. In that 2009 case, ATF officials allowed a tobacco distributor working as an ATF confidential informant to keep $4.9 million in profits from cigarette sales to criminal suspects.