Dart using food stamps to track fugitives
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
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
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
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,
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
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.