Operation Legend in Albuquerque is Not What Anyone Says It Is

Photograph Source: President Donald Trump announcing the expansion of Operation Legend on July 22, 2020 – Public Domain

President Trump announced an expansion to Operation Legend in a July 22 White House press conference, calling it a planned “surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime. . . One of them is Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Attorney General William Barr said that thirty-five agents from multiple federal agencies would be sent to Albuquerque to assist in serious gun and drug investigations. “These are street agents,” explained Barr, who will be “working shoulder to shoulder with our state and local colleagues.”

That same day, in an interview with CNN, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller called the agents “Trump’s secret police.” When asked what he knew about the operation Keller said, “We’ve been told nothing.”

According to sources and federal court documents, however, the federal agents involved in what John Anderson, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, would later confirm to be the first Operation Legend arrests[1] [2]  in Albuquerque were in the City weeks earlier than the official launch of Operation Legend.

And at least one officer from the Albuquerque Police Department has been coordinating with Operation Legend since at least mid-July, nearly two weeks prior to Keller’s claim that the city had “received no formal documentation about this at all.”

At the July White House press conference, Barr claimed Operation Legend agents would be “working to solve murders” in Albuquerque “and to take down the violent gangs.” According to two sources with first-hand knowledge of Operation Legend, federal agents are posing undercover as drug users and soliciting drugs and guns from people on the street in order to induce the commission of felony crimes. As one source told us, federal agents are “just running right up to you asking for drugs and guns. Anybody they see moving around here with bags, they’re profiling. And I don’t know why they figure they can get to the drugs and guns off the homeless.”

A source we talked to with knowledge of federal law enforcement operations in Albuquerque said that the tactics described to us by sources on the street are consistent with nearly all federal operations in the City. “If Feds are involved, for sure. . . That’s mostly what Feds do,” the source said.

According to Mayor Keller, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), is not cooperating with Operation Legend, but a review of investigative documents related to Operation Legend shows otherwise. On July 16, six days before Keller claimed the City would not cooperate with Operation Legend, APD homicide detective Jose Lucero contacted Charles DuBois, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Six days later, on July 21, the same day Keller said he only first heard about Operation Legend during a phone call with the U.S. Attorney, Lucero and DuBois were searching through APD’s evidence lab to “view and photograph” evidence.

Agent DuBois filed a criminal complaint with the federal court on July 24 based on evidence that the U.S. Attorney confirmed was gathered as part of a joint APD-Operation Legend i[3] [4] [5] nvestigation. This is the same day one of Keller’s city attorneys, Stephanie Hults, wrote a letter to Anderson. In it she claimed the City “does not welcome federal agents making arrests and using force. . . The City of Albuquerque does not welcome federal agents hiding their identity and the identity of the agencies for which they work.”

According to sources, however, federal agents, in coordination with APD, began making arrests and hiding their identity in late July. Sources say federal agents first began soliciting drugs and guns on Albuquerque’s streets in coordination with APD on or around July 27, just days before Keller promised in a press conference “to be vigilant” in opposing Operation Legend.

Barr described Operation Legend as “an initiative to combat rising violent crime in a number of our cities,” but the people we talked to on the street describe it as an aggressive, at times clumsy, entrapment operation by agents unfamiliar with Albuquerque and unable to keep their cover.  This “kid comes up to us,” one person told us “and says he’s dope sick and starts asking for drugs, but like asking for all the drugs. What is that? No one asks for heroin and cocaine. And he had a bike and so we knew he was a Fed when he said he wouldn’t give it up. What junkie doesn’t give up a bike?”

Another person told us that when agents first arrived, they were approaching people near Albuquerque’s downtown and were “asking for crystal.” This tipped people off because “we don’t use the word crystal,” they told us. “They’ll ask for black. Now they’re asking for shards and dark. and they’re asking for pistols.” All of them “are asking for heroin” but they don’t act like heroin addicts. They’re “alive, awake, sitting in areas for four to six hours. Four to six hours,” our source repeated. “An addict doesn’t act that way.”

Keller reiterated his initial denials in July again in August when he told Time Magazine he knew “literally nothing other than talk” abou[6] [7] t Operation Legend. But beginning in late July Albuquerque police were no longer “doing the same patrol because they got the federal agents,” one told us. Another claimed that APD suddenly showed up after a federal agent blew his cover and helped the agent safely leave the area.

Operation Legend doesn’t appear to be what anyone says it is. It is not a major drug and crime operation in Albuquerque. It has not been kept secret from Albuquerque police or officials with the City of Albuquerque. From court documents it appears instead to be a continuation of existing federal operations, all of which include close coordination with the Albuquerque Police Department.

If Trump has “secret police,” as Keller told CNN, they’re Keller’s secret police too. The ATF agent who filed the first Operation Legend criminal complaint, Charles DuBois, joined ATF in 2019. Prior to that he spent twelve years as an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department.

David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa are members of AbolishAPD, a research and mutual aid group working to abolish the Albuquerque Police Department. They can be reached at AbolishAPD@protonmail.com