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Dart using food stamps to track fugitives

Tuesday, May 04, 2010
SouthtownStar
by Bob Babwin

Fugitives in Cook County are learning that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

More than 100 people wanted for crimes ranging from kidnapping to marijuana possession were arrested late last month after police tracked their food stamp applications, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday.

When people are arrested, they often give authorities addresses that turn out to be vacant lots or abandoned buildings - but they're more honest when they want food stamps.

"We were able to clear a lot of people off of our wanted list and at the same time get them off of the public dole," Dart said while announcing that 168 fugitives had been arrested during the investigation, most through food stamp tracking. Many applicants had listed their real addresses.

The investigation dubbed "Operation Talon" included Dart's office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Marshals Service's Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force.

The key was the roster of food stamp recipients contained in the USDA's computers.

After giving the USDA a list of 41,000 people who having arrest warrants pending in Cook County, the agency's computer spit out between 700 and 800 names.

"By working together with them we were able to take data that we normally don't have," said Dart, adding that it's illegal for fugitives to collect food stamps.

It isn't the first time Dart has used creative tactics. His office once lured fugitives to an "event" with a promise of free Super Bowl tickets.

While tracking food stamps, investigators found addresses for people across Cook County, some wanted for violations as minor as failing to appear in traffic court. Some were sound asleep, and none gave police any trouble, authorities said.

"We know where they're at because they're actually collecting checks at those addresses," Dart said.

Some arrests led to other arrests and the seizure of weapons, cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy in the homes they were searching, authorities said.

Among those arrested was a Chicago woman accused of aggravated kidnapping for allegedly locking a woman in a room, wrapping her belt around the woman's neck and forcing her to crawl until she gave her $300 in September 2008.

Other arrests included a Chicago man wanted for allegedly beating a man with his shoe, and a woman accused in January of scratching her name and a man's name into "The Bean," the huge stainless steel sculpture at Millennium Park.

Dart said it's unclear how much food stamp money was going to fugitives, but said some people arrested during the recent sting were wanted on charges from two years ago.



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