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More Than 100 Fugitives Caught In Sting That Lured Them To Warehouse

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Sheriff's Office Sting

(l-r) Robert L. Longstreet, Christopher Melnyk and Tayrone Davis were among the fugitives who fell for a ruse drawing them to a warehouse where Cook County Sheriff’s police were waiting (Credit: Cook County Sheriff’s office)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s latest sting has netted 102 fugitives, some of whom knew they should have known better.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Dart’s fugitive hunters mailed out glossy filers promising cash, as well as a free TV or computer, if they just came to a warehouse at 2200 S. Kenneth Ave. for a consumer survey.

“We had numerous cases, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies – some people we’d been looking for longer periods of time than others – that we have cleared off the books,” Dart said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

The notices were sent to the last known home addresses of 10,000 fugitives wanted in warrants. They invited the recipients to make an appointment with “C.W. Marketing,” which was conducting surveys in home electronics. As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, the inside joke was that “C.W.” stands for “central warrants” at the sheriff’s office.

If they participated, they would get to keep the electronic devices they tested, and would each get $75 cash, the notices said. Gift certificates worth $500 were also mentioned.

Most of the letters came back undeliverable, but more than 50 fugitives between the ages of 19 and 66 showed up for the appointments with “C.W. Marketing.” When they arrived at the warehouse, the fugitives found empty boxes for plasma TVs and video game systems, and undercover officers welcoming them in bright T-shirts. The warehouse was also bedecked in signs and balloons.

Sheriff’s Inspector Neal Gaynor was one of the officers who was there to greet the fugitives.

“They’d ask me about TVs and I’d come up with something. I don’t even know nothing about TV’s,” he said.

But the fugitives were in for an unpleasant surprise. Once their identities were confirmed and their pictures were taken, they were arrested on the spot.

Tayrone Davis of Chicago – wanted for DUI – was 90 minutes late and called the number provided on the letter, pleading to keep the warehouse open for him. He ran the final blocks to get there.

“He actually brought his previous booking sheet with him, so that the actual booking process was made easier for us as well,” Dart said. “The only thing he did not do was handcuff himself.”

Dart said some of the fugitives had suspicions.

“‘I thought this might be a sting,’ but, he said, ‘I thought it might be, but arrested (vs.) $500, it was worth the risk,’” Dart said, quoting one fugitive who got caught.

Another fugitive, Christopher Melnyk, smelled a rat. Also wanted for DUI, he suspected a sting and sent his uncle to collect the prize.

“His uncle was not real thrilled that he was now being questioned by us, so the uncle then gave us the address and everywhere to go find the nephew,” Dart said.

Among those arrested during the operation between Sept. 17-24 were:

— Christopher Melnyk, 47, of Chicago, who has 22 previous arrests for battery, possession of a stolen vehicle and criminal trespassing. He was also wanted for driving on a suspended license. Melnyk suspected a ploy and sent a relative to go for the “consumer survey” in his place, but when confronted by officers, the relative gave up Melnyk’s location and he was arrested.

— Tayrone Davis, 34, of Chicago, who was arrested 32 times on charges ranging from burglary to domestic battery causing bodily harm, and who was wanted this time for a DUI offense. He was an hour and a half late for his appointment, and the Sheriff’s office says he was “breathlessly” calling investigators as he sprinted the final blocks to the warehouse.

— Robert L. Longstreet, 53, of Kenosha, Wis., who has previous arrests for assault and drug possession, and was wanted for domestic battery. He went so far as to take a bus to Chicago to keep his appointment.

Investigators also made 50 more arrests last week, upon pursuing leads in search of other fugitives.

Dart said more fugitives are getting wise to the scams, increasingly wary of “congratulations” letters offering something for nothing.

But he also said the stings are far too valuable to discontinue and he’s planning more. It takes so much time and manpower to arrest just one fugitive, that having more than 100 voluntarily come to be arrested you saves taxpayers a bundle.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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