WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal investigators offered up to $1 million on Monday for information about a U.S. border agent’s 2010 death, the same case that is fueling an election-year firestorm between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans.
Republicans highlighted the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry as they investigated Operation Fast and Furious, a since-abandoned program that targeted the flow of illegal guns across the U.S.-Mexico border to drug cartels.
Two guns found at the scene of Terry’s death in Arizona were among those that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attempted to track as part of the botched gun-control operation.
The political dispute culminated in a vote last month by the Republican-led House of Representatives to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt for withholding documents. It is likely headed next for a federal court in Washington.
Holder said in a statement on Monday that the unsealing of an indictment of six men reflects an “unrelenting commitment to finding and arresting” those responsible for Terry’s death.
The indictment charges five of the men with first-degree murder. The men crossed into Arizona from Mexico intending to rob drug traffickers and killed Terry during a December 2010 gun fight with him and three other agents, the indictment says.
The reward of up to $1 million is for information leading to the arrests of four of the men who are not in custody.
The five men charged with first-degree murder are Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza. They face other charges including assault on a federal officer.
A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, pleaded guilty in February to a single count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, court records say.
Manuel and Rito Osorio-Arellanes are in custody, the Justice Department said in a news release. A lawyer for Rito Osorio-Arellanes declined to comment on Monday. A lawyer for Manuel Osorio-Arellanes did not respond to a request for comment.
A grand jury handed up the nine-page indictment on November 7, 2011. A federal court sealed the indictment at the request of prosecutors.
Six news organizations, critical of the lack of public information available about the case, asked the court to unseal the indictment and all other records. “To date, the entirety of this case has unfolded secretly, even as the public clamored for answers about Agent Terry’s death,” they wrote in a January court filing.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley, the first lawmaker to draw attention to Operation Fast and Furious, had previously asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to put those suspected in Terry’s death on the bureau’s “most wanted” list.
Holder, who is head of the Justice Department in Obama’s Democratic administration, has said that politics is driving the House’s inquiry. The department says it has released more than 7,000 documents to a House committee, showing that officials in Washington initially knew little of the gun-running operation.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is conducting its own investigation of Operation Fast and Furious.
Editing by Philip Barbara