DOWNTOWN — Three federal-issued semi-automatic assault rifles similar to the high-powered weapons used in the Newtown school massacre have mysteriously vanished from a locked government safe inside the home of a New York agent, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
Sources said the Justice Department is probing the disappearance of the M4 rifles from the Long Island home of a veteran U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
The agent, who joined ICE a decade ago, holds a law degree and is a firearms instructor working out of 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. He is assigned to the elite Enforcement Removal and Operations Unit, a squad specializing in hunting dangerous illegal aliens who have already served time and are being sought for deportation.
An ICE spokesman early today said “ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and Suffolk County Police Department are currently conducting an investigation regarding the theft of U.S. government property in the New York-area."
" As part of this criminal investigation, an arrest of a civilian has been made," the spokesman said, without providing the suspect's name or any other information while the feds "continue to follow-up on all investigative leads."
DNAinfo.com New York is withholding the agent's name because he has not been charged with any crime, but he has been re-assigned as the probe continues.
According to sources, the firearms trainer initially brought eight M4s rifles from his office to his Suffolk County home in November, where he secured them in a government-installed safe with the combination known only to him and a handful of his colleagues.
Under federal guidelines, an agent is permitted to take weapons home from his office if it is in connection with his training assignments.
But if the agent plans on going out of town without them, he is expected to drop them off at his office for security reasons, sources said.
In mid-November, he traveled to Georgia for a firearms training assignment, leaving the guns behind.
“We don’t know what he could have been thinking,” a law enforcement source said.
A few weeks ago, the agent opened the safe to retrieve the weapons and bring them to his office — only to discover three were no longer there.
“He went into the safe to move them to Manhattan and saw that they were missing,” a law enforcement source said.
Investigators believe whoever stole the three weapons thought they might go unnoticed if they left the other five behind.
The agent informed headquarters about the missing weapons, and the Department of Justice was notified.
The Office of The Inspector General’s office of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement, then launched an investigation.
Investigators were unable to find fingerprints on the combination safe
The timing of the lost weapons could not have been worse coming so soon after a crazed young man in Connecticut used an M4 to kill 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, fueling a national debate on gun control.
“As public servants working for a law enforcement agency, every employee at ICE is held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct" the spokesman said. "Accusations of misconduct are investigated thoroughly by OPR."