POLICE CAPTURE FUGITIVES WITH LURE
OF FREE TVs, ELECTRONICS
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
—More than 100 wanted fugitives thought they were coming to a Southwest Side warehouse to test new home electronics, but they soon realized they were targets in an undercover operation that led them right to awaiting officers, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Tuesday.
“Operation C.W. Marketing” was a two-week effort that targeted those wanted for violent felonies, misdemeanor traffic offenses, unpaid child support and contempt of court charges, among other infractions. The initiative resulted in 102 arrests, with 106 warrants cleared – 15 felonies, 72 misdemeanors and 15 from civil courts. The county also collected more than $5,000 in fees from towing vehicles as part of the operation.
In early September, investigators with the Cook County Sheriff’s Central Warrants Unit sent invitation letters to 10,000 offenders whose warrants were the most recent issued in Cook County. The letters were sent to the fugitive’s last known address and welcomed that specific person to make an appointment with C.W. Marketing, which they were told was conducting surveys on assorted home electronics. In exchange for their feedback, participants would get $75 in cash and could keep the electronic device they tested.
Though thousands of letters came back as undeliverable, more than 50 wanted fugitives – ranging in age from 19 to 66 - made appointments to come to a Cook County government warehouse. As the offenders pulled up to the warehouse, smiling undercover officers headed to their cars while carrying empty boxes for plasma TVs and video game systems, creating the appearance of a festive, gift-filled visit. The fugitives were then warmly welcomed by other officers wearing bright T-shirts, surrounded by signs and balloons.
Once inside, the offender’s identity was confirmed and fake celebrations continued, along with a picture. As the target posed for a photo, officers moved in for the arrest.
Among those arrested during appointments made from Sept. 17 to Sept. 24 were:
Robert L. Longstreet, 53, of Kenosha, Wisc., who has previous arrests for assault and drug possession and was wanted for domestic battery. He took a bus to Chicago in order to keep his appointment with C.W. Marketing.
Christopher Melnyk, 47, of Chicago, who has 22 previous arrests for battery, possession of a stolen vehicle and criminal trespassing. Wanted for driving on a suspended license, he suspected the letter was a ploy and sent a relative to take the survey instead. That relative provided information to investigators about Melnyk’s location and he was later taken into custody without incident.
Tayrone Davis, 34, of Chicago, who has been arrested 32 times on charges ranging from burglary to domestic battery causing bodily harm. He was 90 minutes late for his appointment and was breathlessly calling investigators as he took buses and sprinted the final blocks to make his appointment. He was wanted for driving under the influence.
After accepting appointments for five days, investigators pursued leads in search of some of the other fugitives and made about 50 more arrests last week.
“Operation C.W. Marketing” is the latest ruse operation Sheriff Dart has authorized in an effort to apprehend just some of the 45,000 fugitives wanted in Cook County. Other recent efforts included promising holiday shopping certificates to wanted criminals and another sting that promised fugitives they were owed more money in federal stimulus dollars.
Along with these efforts, earlier this year, Sheriff Dart listed all 44,000 wanted fugitives on the Cook County Sheriff’s website, while separately listing 1,000 others wanted for child support warrants. Anonymous tips from those links have led to dozens of arrests and tips about other criminal activities.
The public is reminded that they can search for fugitives by name or hometown at www.cookcountysheriff.com. Anyone with information about the location of wanted fugitives can anonymously call 312-491-6715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.