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Holiday ruse helps Cook County round up fugitives
Suspects lured to hotel with promise of pay for participating in survey

Monday, December 22, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Jeff Long

More than 60 fugitives were arrested when they showed up at a suburban hotel to collect what they thought was $500 for filling out a marketing survey, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Sunday.

With 61 arrested there and other arrests related to the sting, the total number of fugitives nabbed was 230, Dart said.

Investigators sent letters from the fictitious company "Shoptastic Solutions," telling those with outstanding warrants that they had been selected to participate in a survey that would help retail stores figure out shoppers' needs during the holiday season.

By scratching off a box for a CASH PRIZE, the recipients learned that if they showed up to take the survey they would win $500, or DOUBLE that amount in GIFT CARDS!

"Positively no gimmicks!!" the letter says.

"We tried to tap into people's Christmas spirit," Dart said, "then threw a big Grinch on top of it."

The recipient's "shopper number" on the letter was actually the number of his or her arrest warrant, Dart said.

"I wish we had more stupid criminals," Dart said, adding that some of the people arrested congratulated authorities on the ruse.

About 6,300 letters were sent to people with warrants, but many were returned because the recipients had moved. Dart said making fugitives come to police is cheaper and easier than sending police after them.

"We took a lot of dangerous people off the streets," Dart said.

Among those arrested was Raymond Russell, 56, of Chicago, who has allegedly failed to pay child support for 13 years and owes nearly $90,000 in back payments.

Justin Taylor, 27, of Elgin, had an outstanding warrant for driving on a revoked or suspended license, officials said. Dart said he drove to the hotel and had 2.5 grams of marijuana with him, which he allegedly told police he had planned to smoke in celebration of collecting the $500.



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