MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal investigators are looking into allegations that the former head of the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation’s Superior field office has been selling guns without a federal license.
DCI Administrator Dave Matthews told The Associated Press on Thursday that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been investigating Special Agent Jay Smith for several months. ATF spokesman Bob Schmidt confirmed the probe.
Smith declined comment when reached on his cellphone Thursday.
Matthews says he contacted the ATF after another DCI agent, Dan Bethards, notified him in December that Smith had been selling weapons to law enforcement personnel. Bethards had worked with Smith for more than a year in Superior before taking medical leave in October.
“I feel that I have a legal and moral obligation to provide this information to you,” Bethards wrote in a Dec. 19 email to Matthews. “If I stand by and do nothing while a police officer violates federal gun laws that would violate my law enforcement code of ethics and my personal integrity. I can’t do that, even if it costs me my job.”
Bethards has filed a whistleblower complaint against the state’s justice department, which oversees DCI, alleging the agency retaliated against him for raising the allegations by stripping him of his gun and badge. He also has alleged Smith told local law enforcement agencies around Superior that he was suicidal and dangerous.
Matthews told the AP that Bethards and Smith have been at odds since Smith took over command of the Superior office. He said he didn’t find Bethards’ allegations credible but still contacted ATF within 24 hours of receiving them because he’s not familiar with federal firearm laws and they don’t fall within the state’s jurisdiction.
Justice Department spokeswoman Dana Brueck said last week the agency has decided to close the Superior field office and remove Smith’s special agent-in-charge title and reduced his pay rate accordingly. Smith and the only other agent remaining in the office will remain in the region, perhaps working out of local police stations.
Matthews denied Thursday that the move had anything to do with Bethards’ allegations, saying it would help DCI cover a broad swath of northwestern Wisconsin.
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