NY Times Demand Records on ATF Tobacco Smuggling

MANHATTAN (CN) – The New York Times sued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for documents in a tobacco-smuggling scandal involving a secret ATF bank account.

The Times and reporter Matt Apuzzo sued the ATF in a federal FOIA complaint Friday.

They seek documents involving a story the Times broke on Feb. 23 stemming from a racketeering lawsuit filed by tobacco farmers.

According to the lawsuit, “at the same time the ATF was tightening its tobacco enforcement policies, some of its Virginia-based agents were engaged in a practice that more closely resembled tobacco smuggling. The profits of this ATF-led tobacco-smuggling scheme were shunted to a secret bank account used to finance undercover investigations and pay informants.”

This “ATF-led tobacco-smuggling scheme” ended up costing farmers millions of dollars, according to their lawsuit and the Times’ reporting.

Due to the Times’ reporting, the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “took steps to begin examining the scope and nature of the ATF scheme,” the Times says in its FOIA complaint.

But the ATF has not turned over two sets of records the Times requested. Its Sept. 2, 2016 FOIA requests sought “records related to ATF policy regarding tobacco smuggling investigations” and “records related to the ATF scheme itself.”

More specifically, the Times asked the ATF for “‘[a]ll rules and guidelines maintained by [the ATF] pertaining to the use of so-called “management accounts” by ATF agents or others when investigating tobacco diversion;’” and “‘documents related to the tobacco diversion investigation at issue in case number 5:13-cv-00527 of the Eastern District Court of North Carolina.’”

Neither request was answered, the Times says. Therefore, the newspaper has exhausted its administrative remedies it demands “any disclosable records in its possession at the time of the request and provide a lawful reason for withholding any materials as to which it is claiming an exemption.”

The Times is represented by David McGraw in its Legal Department.

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