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Radio Station ‘Sting’ Nets 39 Arrests at Holiday Party

December 18, 1988

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ The grand prize was handcuffs and an all-expenses-paid trip to the county jail in a bogus radio-station promotion that netted 39 unsuspecting fugitives, police said Sunday.

″It went beautifully,″ Springfield Police Commander Dave Searcy said a day after the ″sting″ operation lured the suspects to what they thought was a holiday extravaganza arranged by radio station WBTP.

But the call letters stood for ″Wanted By The Police,″ and those who showed up were arrested instead on charges ranging from traffic offenses to burglary.

″They were allowed to party for a half-hour with drinks and everything,″ Searcy said. ″But everybody there, from Santa Claus to the elves to the clowns, were cops. In some cases, we were entertaining their kids while other cops were booking them.″

Promotional letters from the phony radio station were sent to the last known address authorities had for 545 fugitives in a three-county area around Springfield. The scheme was hatched by the Sangamon County Sheriff’s police several weeks earlier.

Recipients of the letters were promised a $500 gift certificate and a chance to win a $2,000 shopping spree at area stores in a drawing scheduled for Saturday morning at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center.

But to claim the prizes, winners had to show up in person at what was billed as a holiday promotion at the center.

″We took them out one by one to get their surprises,″ Searcy said, ″and they were surprised all right.

″One woman kept laughing and saying, ‘You’re not serious.’ When we told her we were, she started crying. Another guy kept saying, ‘I knew it, I just knew it.’ But that didn’t stop him from showing up.″

Of the 39 arrests, 12 were for felony charges, 25 for misdemeanors, and two for traffic offenses. One fugitive arrested had been sought since 1984, Searcy said.

About half had posted bond by midday Sunday, he added.

″We had only one minor snag. A man with the same name as his son showed up. The mistake was found out right away,″ Searcy said, ″but needless to say, he was more than a little upset by the whole thing.″

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