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Sheriff's rebate ruse brings in 66 fugitives; They believed letters telling them how to get checks

By Francine Knowles
The Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO - They thought they were going to be getting tax rebates. Instead, they got a trip to jail.
That was the end result of a three-week sting operation by Cook County sheriff's officers that nabbed 66 fugitives wanted for crimes including domestic battery, aggravated robbery, driving under the influence, back child support and other charges.
In what was dubbed Operation Rebate & Switch, officers set up the fictional Tax Recovery Experts Inc. storefront office on South Archer Avenue and lured the fugitives to the site with letters promising to help them get their first rebate or supplemental check. Those who got the letters were instructed to call the Southwest Side office to set up an appointment.
The letters were sent to roughly 5,000 fugitives, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said Sunday, announcing the arrests. About 100 fugitives responded, and 32 showed up at the office, where an undercover agent, posing as a receptionist, asked them to present identification. The fugitives were then individually escorted to a back office, where they thought an agent was waiting to discuss their cases. Instead, they were handcuffed by police and ushered out a back door, where a waiting van took them to jail.
"We sort of homed in on people's prevailing motivator at times, which is greed," said Dart.
One fugitive drove in from Michigan, Dart noted. Thirty-four offenders were arrested after they called in to make appointments but failed to show up, in a second phase of the operation in which officers fanned out across Cook County to make arrests at various offenders' homes.
The sting cost roughly $8,000, much of which was made up by the more than $6,000 in towing fees received when the fugitives' cars were impounded, Dart said.
Don Morrison, chief of the electronic-monitoring fugitive unit, said the sting evolved after a chance conversation he had with his dad about his tax rebate check. Working with a team that included the Sheriff's Fugitive Warrants Division, the Child Support Enforcement Division, Department of Women's Justice, and Department of Community Supervision and Intervention, the sting was put together.
"It was in the newspapers, on TV all the time about the stimulus checks, and it just hit us one day," Morrison said of the idea. "We hashed it over for a couple of weeks, and then we started working on it."

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