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EXCLUSIVE: Texas Coordinates With ATF to Share Income of Residents for Warrantless Monitoring

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R. G. Jones
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EXCLUSIVE: Texas Coordinates With ATF to Share Income of Residents for Warrantless Monitoring

Emily Miller
April 17, 2023Updated: April 18, 2023
biggersmaller 

 
0:009:09
 
 
 
 

 

Texas secretly gives its citizens’ incomes to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Documents show this has led to at least one person being monitored by the feds without a warrant through the federal gun background check system. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) told The Epoch Times that it has written contracts with ATF  for “sharing income information” for criminal investigations. The revelation may lead to oversight by the legislature.

Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican, is “deeply troubled” about this coordination with the state’s unemployment agency and federal government.

“My office will be looking into whether the Texas Workforce Commission is assisting the ATF in the Biden Administration’s mission to violate the constitutional rights of law-abiding Texans,” Cain told The Epoch Times after reviewing the emails obtained by Gun Owners of America (GOA) as part of its ongoing FOIA lawsuit.

 

This is the third part in an exclusive Epoch Times series on the ATF giving information on innocent suspects to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for daily monitoring through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The FBI uses NICS as a database of people who are prohibited from possessing or buying guns.

Texan’s Income Exposed

In one of the documents, an ATF agent emailed the FBI that a person suspected of straw purchasing or firearms trafficking needed to be put into the gun background check database. The agent wrote that “per TWC,” the man’s “reported wage earnings with the State of Texas do not appear to supply the financial means to afford the firearms purchased.”

The ATF agent requested on Dec. 28, 2020, that the Texan’s gun purchases be monitored daily for 90 days. However, as previously reported, the FBI wrote to ATF that its agents could request an extension of the monitoring for as long as they wanted.

Texas’s role in the program was uncovered in the ATF’s ninth production of documents to GOA as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The 42 pages are more heavily redacted than the previous ones given to GOA. There are seven pages of blacked-out information before the source of the income of the person in Texas is shown as TWC.

“One would think that a pro-gun state like Texas would not be handing over gun owners’ confidential financial information to the federal government without a warrant or likely even without probable cause,” Rob Olson, an attorney for GOA, told The Epoch Times.

Second Amendment Sanctuary?

A spokeswoman for TWC said in a statement: “Federal and State law provides a path for sharing income information with a federal governmental agency if the federal agency can establish a purpose that is permissible under law and enters into a written agreement which sets forth legal requirements regarding allowable use and protection of the information.” She also said a warrant to release salary information is not required by law.

Texas does not have a state income tax. Employers report wages to the TWC in order to determine their unemployment taxes, so its the state’s only source for tracking income.

Asked how many times the TWC has given out citizens’ incomes, the spokeswoman said it “provides this information to ATF pursuant to two contracts in Dallas and Houston.” She said income was shared for any of these purposes: to assist in criminal investigations, to assist in locating defendants, witnesses, and fugitives in criminal cases, and to assist in locating persons with outstanding warrants.

 

When told about TWC’s legal defense, Cain said he will put in a formal request to TWC for copies of the two contracts with ATF.

TWC is governed by three commissioners who are appointed by Governor Greg Abbott. In June 2021, Abbott signed a bill that made Texas a Second Amendment Sanctuary State to resist new gun-control policies from Pres. Joe Biden. The law prohibits state officials from enforcing specific federal regulations on firearms that are not in line with state law.

Steady Job, Too Many Guns

Another case in the documents shows agents in the ATF Dallas field office knew a Texas woman’s salary and used that information to get the FBI to put her into NICS. It does not say her salary came from TWC, but there is one paragraph redacted.

The agent wrote in Jan 2021 that the suspect “has a steady job however her annual salary in no way can support her current spending on firearms.” It also says that she “received multiple wire” transfers from a man in Sacramento, California.

It appears the woman was monitored daily by the FBI for at least 180 days. None of the emails between the FBI and ATF released have shown that a request to monitor someone was denied.

“Federal agents have no business deciding whether they think a person’s income qualifies them to buy a certain number of guns. If ATF thought it had enough for a warrant, presumably it would get one,” GOA’s Olson said.

The FBI and ATF, which call their program NICS Monitoring Services, do not get a warrant or court order for tracking people for just “potential” violations of law. The requirement that federally licensed dealers do an instant background check through NICS on gun buyers was created in the Brady Act in 1993. The law says that the database can only be used to track people who are in the nine categories prohibited to possess guns, which includes felons, drug users, domestic abusers, and illegal aliens.

Man Makes $30,000

In a previous FOIA production, an ATF agent from the “Houston Crime Gun Strike Force” requested the FBI monitor a Hispanic man who admitted to selling guns at a profit. The agent reported that “a review of [redacted] employment wages revealed he earns approximately $30,000/year.” The source of the information about his income is not given but could be behind the blacked-out part.

The Houston agent backed up his June 2020 request by citing that the Texas man “admitted to selling multiple firearms in order to make money” during “a non-custodial interview with law enforcement.” It’s not illegal to make money from selling guns. The ATF requires you to become a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) if you “repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit.”

The ATF agent wrote that the man bought an “unknown amount of additional firearms from other FFLs.” This means licensed dealers did not suspect him of breaking the law.

Nevertheless, this Hispanic man’s lower income and living in “low income government housing” resulted in his being tracked without a warrant.

Olson, GOA’s lawyer, pointed out that there are reasonable explanations for gun purchases.

“There are countless legitimate explanations for spending more money on guns than the income reported to the Texas Workforce Commission—for example, income from investments or work in another state, a gift from a wealthy parent or grandparent, cash from a yard sale or selling old belongings online, or even something as simple as spending savings or putting purchases on a credit card. None of these scenarios makes a person a gun runner.”

Feds Silent

While TWC was open about its cooperation with ATF, the federal government would not answer questions. “ATF doesn’t have anything additional to add regarding investigative techniques that might be utilized in our criminal investigations,” spokesman Erik Longnecker told The Epoch Times when asked about working with TWC. Longnecker has previously stated that “ATF utilizes a multitude of legal means in our criminal investigations to protect our communities from violent gun crime.”

The GOA first uncovered the NICS monitoring program in April 2021. The ATF refused to respond to FOIA requests, so GOA filed a lawsuit in November 2021. The ATF documents released as part of the lawsuit are from the FBI. There have been no internal ATF documents released.

Spokesmen for both the FBI and ATF refuse to say if the program is ongoing and how many people are currently being monitored by NICS who are not legally prohibited from buying guns.


   
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