Retired agent awarded $173,000 in ATF lawsuit

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PHOENIX (AP) — A retired federal agent was awarded $173,000 after a judge found the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives breached a 2007 settlement that resolved the agent's complaint that the agency didn't properly investigate threats made against him after his undercover investigation of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

Judge Francis Allegra of the United States Court of Federal Claims said in a ruling publicly released Tuesday that the agency's conduct in dealing with Agent Jay Dobyns constituted a breach of good faith. The judge rejected the ATF's claim that Dobyns violated his employment contract by publishing a book on the Hells Angels investigation.

In the early 2000s, Dobyns posed as a member of a Tijuana-based motorcycle club and staged a fake murder of a rival group member that led to him getting voted in as a full Hells Angels member. Threats were made against the agent and his family after his identity was revealed in court.

The 2007 settlement between Dobyns and the agency resolved the agent's complaint that the ATF improperly investigated several threats against him and mismanaged his relocation after authorities said a Hells Angels member made a threat against him. As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to pay Dobyns $373,000 and review with him any escalating threats against the agent or his family.

About 11 months after the settlement was inked, an arson fire was started at Dobyns' home in Tucson. His wife and children escaped the burning house without injury. Dobyns was in Phoenix at the time.

The judge said two agents who were involved in the arson investigation knew Dobyns wasn't responsible for the fire but still allowed him to be treated as a suspect.

James Reed, an attorney representing Dobyns, said the question of who set the fire remains unanswered.

"They diverted resources away from pursuing those suspects," Reed said. "We don't know who did it. We don't know who these people are."

The judge said there was a clear indication that certain ATF employees breached an obligation to act in good faith and deal fairly with one another.

Allegra also said it was "evident that ATF officials failed to follow through" on implementing steps aimed at minimizing the risks to Dobyns and his family.

The ATF declined to comment on the ruling.

The judge said the agency failed to prove its claim that Dobyns breached his employment contract by publishing a book on the Hells Angels investigation. Allegra wrote that ATF officials knew of his book project before the 2007 settlement was agreed upon.

Dobyns retired from the ATF in January.

The $173,000 award is in addition to the $373,000 that Dobyns received as part of the 2007 settlement.

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