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Winners take big prize -- a trip straight to jail
SHERIFF | 61 fugitives nabbed after showing up for bogus gifts

Monday, December 22, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mark J. Konkol

You could already be a winner -- if you weren't going to jail.

That's the bad news 61 fugitives got after being lured to a suburban hotel with news they had won a $1,000 gift card and the chance to take home a big-screen TV.

Earlier this month, people wanted on outstanding warrants got a letter in the mail from "Shoptastic Solutions" -- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's fictitious marketing outfit -- promising prizes and no gimmicks.

All they had to do was check the enclosed scratch-off ticket to see if they had won -- which, of course, they all did. The "winners" were told to call in their shopper number -- which actually was their warrant number -- to schedule an appointment to complete a shopping survey and pick up their prize.

At a hotel near Midway Airport, an undercover officer in a funny hat shot off streamers as the winners walked in. While they filled out the survey, sheriff's police -- hiding in closets -- popped out with zip-tie handcuffs and the big surprise.

Dart said he got a kick out of the bust.

"We tried to tap in to the Christmas spirit and throw a big dose of the Grinch on top of it," Dart said. "The Grinch definitely struck here, and the Grinch had a lot of fun. The Grinch will return, probably in a different way."

The sheriff said most of the bad guys and girls got a good laugh at the clever bust, too.

"One guy in particular came up to me and told me this was the best one ever. I got the impression this wasn't his first time," Dart said.

The 61 offenders arrested were wanted on crimes ranging from aggravated driving under the influence to failing to pay child support.

Sheriff's police also arrested 169 others who made reservations to collect their winnings but didn't show.

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