Sting operation a success

By Lara Jakes Jordan The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Nearly 11,000 sex offenders, gang members and other fugitives from Ohio and 23 other states were swept up in what the Justice Department yesterday called a sting targeting the “worst of the worst” criminals on the run.

The weeklong sting, code-named Operation Falcon III, led to the shooting of a Georgia fugitive killed by authorities as he came out of his house, officials said. Additionally, the neighbor of a fugitive in Florida fired – but missed – police approaching her home. Both shootings are under investigation, said John F. Clark, director of the Marshals Service.

In Ohio, about 260 fugitives were arrested – 107 arrests in Dayton, 83 in Cincinnati and 77 in the Columbus – on charges ranging from rape to robbery to assaulting a police officer, according to federal authorities.

One fugitive was hiding in the attic of a Springfield home and another near Dayton was found in a closet with a handgun and a pit bull.

In Peebles in south central Ohio, a fugitive wanted on a warrant out of Columbus was caught in a bathroom with a shotgun in his mouth. Officers persuaded him to drop the gun and surrender.

The roundup, in 24 states east of the Mississippi River, targeted “the worst of the worst fugitive felons in the country,” Attorney General Albert Gonzales said at a Washington news conference.

Two earlier stings – Falcons I and II – were held in April over the last two years. Gonzales and Clark denied that next week’s elections played any part in scheduling the latest crackdown.

“I can assure you that the coordination of getting 3,000-plus officers and agents, and everybody together to do this, just takes a lot of coordination,” Clark said, adding that he wanted to do the roundup in the fall – before the winter weather hit.

In all, Gonzales said officials caught 10,733 fugitives – including 1,659 sex offenders, 364 gang members and thousands of others sought on kidnapping, robbery, burglary, carjacking and weapons charges. More than 230 weapons were seized.

Those totals represent a fraction of doors knocked on, liquor store drive-bys, construction site surveillances and tips chased down by agents during the weeklong sweep. Finding the fugitives – even at their homes in the early morning hours – proved to be a hit-or-miss mission for the federal, state and local authorities.

A six-hour sting in Washington, D.C., last Thursday morning, for example, netted none of the accused drug dealers sought by a team of seven agents from the U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, State Department and the city’s Metropolitan Police Department.

“He was there a week or so ago,” muttered Marshals Inspector Robert Hoffmaster, after a pre-daybreak search of a house for an accused drug dealer.

In upstate New York, some fugitives tried to hide in unusual places.

“We grabbed one guy out of the shower,” said Joe Ciccarelli, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in New York’s northern district. “We found people hiding in between insulation, rolled up in rugs, inside of cabinets, inside of closets that a person shouldn’t be able to fit in, but they end up fitting in and we have had to call the fire department to get them out.”

Of the sex offenders nabbed, 971 had failed to register with authorities as required by law – what Gonzales called the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement effort.

Normally, the Marshals regional task forces round up about 1,000 fugitives each week, officials said. An estimated 1 million fugitives are on the loose nationwide.