WASHINGTON — US authorities Tuesday named a new chief for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) after a scandal in which the agency lost track of weapons that ended up in the hands of drug cartels in Mexico.
B. Todd Jones, a federal prosecutor in Minnesota, was appointed acting director of ATF, while the current acting director Kenneth Melson was named a senior adviser to the agency on forensic science.
"As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, US Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.
"I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries."
The shakeup comes weeks after a congressional report showed an estimated 2,000 weapons smuggled into Mexico as part of a US sting operation -- and then lost -- have been linked to numerous killings, including that of an American federal agent.
The report found that ATF lost track of the weapons after allowing them to be smuggled into Mexico under an operation called "Fast and Furious," which drew harsh criticism in Congress after the revelations.
At least 122 of the weapons were used in crimes in Mexico, according to the report.
Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the killing of Brian Terry, a border patrol agent who was shot and killed in Arizona December 14 while trying to apprehend armed men preying on illegal immigrants.
The ATF program, which angered Mexico when it came to light, allowed hundreds of weapons to be smuggled into Mexico between 2009 and 2010 as part of a plan to capture major arms traffickers.
President Barack Obama has said neither he nor Holder authorized the program and promised that consequences would flow from a Justice Department investigation.
Mexico estimates that 90 percent of the weapons seized from drug traffickers come from its neighbor to the north.
Jones will continue to serve in the capacity of US Attorney when he assumes the role of ATF acting director on Wednesday.
Also resigning Tuesday was the US attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, who according to media reports provided legal guidance for the ATF weapons initiative.
Holder announced the resignation, saying Burke "demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the Department of Justice and the US Attorney's office."
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