Ex-ATF supervisor admits to raiding undercover account

SEATTLE -- A former supervisor of the Seattle ATF office admitted Wednesday that he stole from an expense account meant to support undercover operations.

James Contreras, formerly a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, stole nearly $20,000 from an expense account meant to allow agents to buy guns and pay informants.

Contreras, a 51-year-old Ravensdale resident, pleaded guilty Wednesday to reduced charges as part of a plea agreement. He was supervising the Seattle ATF office when the thefts took place between March 2010 and April 2012.

In a grand jury indictment handed down in November, federal prosecutors claimed Contreras took money from the account on 30 occasions. He forged signatures of agents who were supposedly requesting and receiving money from the fund, and to have falsified forms tying the expenses to specific investigations.

Initially indicted in 30 separate thefts, Contreras was alleged to have stolen $19,700 in ATF money. Court records show most of the money was disguised as "subsistence payments" to ATF informants.

Contreras pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false statement. Prosecutors have agreed not to seek a sentencing higher than the bottom of the usual sentencing range for the offense, likely six months in federal detention.

The case has been prosecuted by federal prosecutors out of San Francisco, due to Contreras's ties to Seattle-area law enforcement.

Contreras is scheduled to be sentenced May 23 by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. He is currently free on bond.