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Promised gifts, they instead get jail


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Promised gifts, they instead get jail

Tampa police send 350 letters to crime suspects, telling them they'd won prizes; 11 show up and are arrested.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer

Published July 29, 2004

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TAMPA - They showed up a little nervous with their letters, wondering what they'd won: Bucs season tickets? A 42-inch television? A thousand dollars?

Instead, 11 people scored a trip to the county jail Wednesday after they fell for a sting operation that the Tampa Police Department disguised as a sports promotion.

The department had mailed out 350 letters to suspects with active warrants for arrest on charges ranging from homicide to simple battery, said police spokesman Joe Durkin. Of the 11 who showed up, the most serious offender was a sexual predator who allegedly violated his probation.

The letter described a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to win prizes in a promotion marking the opening of All Star Sports Promotions, which was really a company contrived by TPD.

"The overwhelming success of professional sports teams in the Tampa Bay area is what has drawn us to your region," the letter read. "With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and hopefully soon the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, we saw a great opportunity."

So did the 11 suspects who showed up at an Ybor City storefront on 16th Street, hoping to claim their prize.

When the suspects walked into the office, which was decorated with sports paraphernalia, they were greeted by a "receptionist" - really an undercover officer. She charmed them and eased their suspicions with talk of the company's recent move from New York.

"Congratulations, you're a winner!" she told them, and then invited them to a back room to get their pictures taken and to select their prize. Once in the room, the suspects were greeted by a dozen officers, who arrested them and put them in handcuffs.

"They were informed, "This is really the Tampa Police Department. We're putting you into custody for a warrant,' " Durkin said. "We had a couple of them laugh."

The entire ruse - the idea of Officer Jamie Bryant - cost the police department about $50, Durkin said. The point was to help officers serve the warrants in a much safer, controlled environment.

"It's always dangerous when you do a pickup on a person," Durkin said.

The message Wednesday by Tampa police to crime suspects: Watch out, more surprises are on the way.

"TPD is going to be looking outside the box at untraditional and new and creative ways to pick up wanted individuals and bring them to justice," Durkin said.

Here are the suspects arrested, and the charges of their warrants:

Dorian Burns, 19, grand theft auto and dealing in stolen property; Ernest Gillard, 25, criminal traffic violations; Phillip Straily, 21, sexual predator, violation of probation on original charge of lewd and lascivious act upon a child; Joshua Cain, 19, improper flotation devices and fishing without a license; Everett Lockett, 38, domestic violence, spouse battery; Katrina Tucker, 32, grand theft and fraud; April Green, 32, violation of probation for worthless checks; Marvin Simmons, 24, felony contempt of court; Robert Wisneski, 26, criminal traffic violations; Ronell Nedd, 44, criminal traffic violations and battery domestic violence; and Darrell Jones, 33, narcotics.

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

sptimes.com

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