The ATF leader who oversaw a botched undercover operation in Milwaukee will now be in charge of the agency's embattled Phoenix office, where agents allowed more than 2,000 guns to walk into the hands of suspected criminals through the infamous "Operation Fast and Furious."
Bernard "B.J." Zapor will be reunited in Phoenix with Fred Milanowski, another key figure in Milwaukee's "Operation Fearless," where a Journal Sentinel investigation found agents lost government guns, had their storefront ripped off and arrested at least four of the wrong people.
Zapor was in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' St. Paul Field Division, which covers Wisconsin and three other states. In November, shortly after the Milwaukee sting was abruptly shut down, he was promoted to a position in Washington, D.C., supervising eight field divisions.
Officials from the ATF and the U.S. Department of Justice told congressional staffers in April that disciplinary action was under way against Zapor because of the Milwaukee operation. They won't say if Zapor's assignment to Phoenix is punishment.
Zapor has roots in Arizona. He started his career as an agent in Phoenix in 1989 and has family members living in that part of the country. Zapor will be able to retire when he turns 50, in two years. With its proximity to the Mexican border and population, Phoenix is a higher profile field division than St. Paul.
Zapor is well-known to Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones, who continues to be U.S. attorney in St. Paul, where he and Zapor have served for several years. In August 2011, Zapor told the Star Tribune that Jones' appointment as acting director would "benefit public safety nationally."
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last week questioned putting Zapor in charge of Phoenix, given Zapor's "failed management of Operation Fearless."
"Why would you put him in charge of an office that so clearly needs good leadership?" Grassley wrote in questions to Jones. A vote on Jones' confirmation was delayed last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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