Federal judge blasts ATF stings A federal judge in Los Angeles blasted ATF for sting operations that he said unfairly enlist people in a "made-up crime" by offering them a huge payday for robbing a non-existent drug stash house. Judge accuses ATF of enlisting unsuspecting suspects in a 'made-up crime' Order drops charges against a defendant in one Los Angeles sting ATF more than quadrupled use of stash house stings A federal judge in Los Angeles blasted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for sting operations that he said unfairly enlist people in a "made-up crime" by offering them a huge payday for robbing a non-existent drug stash house. Declaring those tactics "outrageous" and unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright took the unusual step last week of throwing out charges against a man arrested by ATF agents after one such sting. "Society does not win when the Government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute — especially when the Government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a made-up crime," Wright wrote. He said the stings have done little to deter crime and instead are "ensnaring chronically unemployed individuals from poverty-ridden areas." The ATF has quietly made those fictional stash-house robbery cases a central feature of its efforts to target violent criminals, more than quadrupling the number of stings it conducted over the past decade. Although the stings are meant to target some of the nation's most dangerous criminals, a USA TODAY investigation last year found they routinely ensnare small-time crooks who jump at the chance to score a small fortune from a few hours of work. "The time has come to remind the Executive Branch that the Constitution charges it with law enforcement — not crime creation. A reverse-sting operation like this one transcends the bounds of due process and makes the Government the oppressor of its people," Wright wrote in a scathing 24-page order. Wright's order, filed March 10, instructed federal officials to release Antuan Dunlap, who was arrested during an ATF sting in Los Angeles last year. Wright said agents had no evidence that Dunlap had been involved in drug house robberies in the past or that he would have participated in one had an undercover ATF agent not offered him the chance to steal as much as 25 kilograms of non-existent cocaine. He criticized the government for basing the severity of the charges Dunlap faced on the "whims" of federal agents and questioned whether the ATF's investigations have done anything to benefit public safety. "Zero. That's the amount of drugs that the Government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country. That's the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs," Wright wrote. Wright, a former deputy sheriff, was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2007. An ATF spokesman declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. It is unclear what effect Wright's order could have on other ATF sting cases. Although some judges have expressed reservations about the government's tactics, most have concluded that the stings don't amount to entrapment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles declined to comment. Prosecutors filed a notice Monday that they intend to appeal, a step that will require approval from Justice Department officials in Washington. Separately, federal courts in at least three states are weighing allegations by defense lawyers that the ATF stash house stings disproportionately target racial and ethnic minorities. U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo wrote last year that there was "a strong showing of potential bias" in how ATF conducted those stings in Chicago.