Rusty Assault Rifles Found in Madera Canyon Not Part of Fast and Furious, ATF Confirms

See also: Fast and Furious Connection Not Ruled Out in Found Assault Rifles, Says Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada

The ATF sent two agents to Santa Cruz County yesterday after the sheriff there said he hadn't  "discounted the possibility" that rusty rifles found in the desert were tied to the Fast and Furious scandal.

The agents confirmed what seemed to be a long shot, anyway: That the three assault rifles, found by a hiker in Madera County, definitely were not some of the guns ATF "walked" as part of its misguided program.

Carlos Canino, the assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Phoenix field division, tells New Times he read about the statements by Sheriff Tony Estrada and decided his agency would check out the guns.

"It's not unreasonable" to think that some random guns found in the desert might be part of the Fast and Furious program, Canino says. "It's not over. It is what is -- these guns are out there."

Criticism of the program which turned into a major political sport in 2010 after U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed near Rio Rico, Arizona. Two guns found near his body turned out to be among the hundreds of guns the ATF knew were being purchased by suspected cartel affiliates. The heats was turned up on the Obama Administration last week when Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, plus 17 Democrats, voted to hold U.S. Attorney General in contempt of Congress for failing to release documents that might show how officials tried to cover their butts after the story first broke.

As we noted yesterday, the scandal evidently means that from now on, every time someone finds mud-packed, old rifles in the desert, people will wonder if they are more gifts from the ATF.

The three guns found on June 20 about 20 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border included a Chinese SKS, and AK-47s of Russian and Egyptian manufacture. After the trace was performed yesterday, the ATF found that one of the guns had been stolen in Phoenix -- back in 1995.

Canino says the agency isn't positive where the other two came from, but that he's "100-percent certain" they weren't from Fast and Furious.

The agency is busy "putting the trains back on the track" in the wake of the scandal, he says.

It'll take time to get that train moving again, especially with Fast and Furious still making headlines.

Last week, Fortune magazine published lengthy story following its six-month investigation on the scandal, and one of the interesting revelations was that Arizona gun seizures have dropped by 90 percent in the last year or so. The main theme of the story by Katerine Eban is that under-zealous prosecutors in the Arizona U.S. Attorney's office and several disgruntled ATF employees are mostly to blame for Fast and Furious, while politics is to blame for the long-legged scandal.

Eban's article has received much criticism since it was published, including from the office of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who has led a congressional investigation into the matter. But the story is certainly worth a read for F&F observers, if you haven't already seen it.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.