AUSTIN — An ATF agent who was investigating Vernon Howell turned down an invitation to inspect Howell’s guns seven months before the Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel, Howell’s attorney said on Friday.

Dick DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who represented Howell and met with him at Mount Carmel while it was under siege, said that former Hewitt gun dealer Henry McMahon telephoned Howell in July 1992 and told him that an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was in another room of his house in Hewitt, inspecting his records and asking questions about Howell, also known as David Koresh, and his guns.

Speaking to a Freedom of Information Foundation in Texas seminar Friday, DeGuerin said that during the July 1992 inquiry, McMahon phoned Koresh saying, “’There’s a guy here from the ATF looking at my books and he’s asking a lot of questions about you and your guns.’

“And David said, ‘Well, tell them they can come on out and they can see the guns,’” DeGuerin said.

DeGuerin said McMahon returned to the other room and told the agent of the phone call.

“The ATF agent goes nuts and gets angry and says ‘We don’t want to do it that way. You shouldn’t have called him,’” DeGuerin said.

About 100 ATF agents stormed Mount Carmel on Feb. 28 to arrest Howell on federal firearms violations and to search Mount Carmel. Four ATF agents were killed in the raid and 16 others were injured. As many as five Branch Davidians were killed in the gunfight. Another was killed later that day and at least 80 more died April 19 when Mount Carmel burned.

McMahon was a frequent visitor to Mount Carmel and had sold Howell many of his guns. McMahon had a federal firearms license and operated a business named Hewitt Handguns out of a house he rented near Interstate 35 in Hewitt.

Jack Killorin, a spokesman for the ATF in Washington, said Koresh’s learning of the investigation in July 1992 had no effect on the raid or the resulting standoff between agents and cult members.

“The fact that someone knows they’re under investigation does not take away from (it),” Killorin said. “The tip that is of concern is (the one) that a raid was shortly coming in the minutes before the raid took place. It becomes a question of preparedness at the moment.”

Federal authorities have alleged Koresh had his followers learned of the raid shortly before it occurred Feb. 28.

Robert Montserrat, McMahon’s attorney, did not immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press.

DeGuerin said McMahon, who moved to Florida months before the Waco siege, was visited by ATF agents just after the initial raid and told him he was in danger.

The agents offered to place him in protective custody, and he accepted, the attorney said.

DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who represented Koresh and was involved in some of the negotiations at the Waco compound, was among several participants in a panel discussion titled “Mount Carmel: What Should the Public Know.”

Tribune-Herald City Editor Brian Blansett contributed to this story.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part Two appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.