CHICAGO — Prosecutors have told a judge they’ll offer plea deals to 43 defendants charged in phony stash-house stings that critics say are racially biased.

That revelation came at a Wednesday hearing in Chicago federal court as U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo prepares to rule on whether bias against blacks and Hispanics underpins the stings.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Castillo told attorneys he’ll release his ruling March 12 no matter how plea talks play out. His first-of-its-kind ruling could help decide whether agencies nationwide curtail such stings.

The operations are usually run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They often involve agents posing as cartel couriers who talk suspects into agreeing to rob drugs that don’t actually exist. Critics say the stings inordinately target minorities.

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