WASHINGTON—In the largest nationwide sweep of its kind, U.S. marshals and state and local officers captured 10,343 fugitives during a one-week period this month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced Thursday.
About 70 percent of the fugitives were wanted for violent crimes, Gonzales said. The total included 162 murder suspects, 553 sexual-assault suspects and 154 "documented gang members," the U.S. Marshals Service announced.
The sweep involved 25 federal law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service and Customs, and 928 state and local agencies and police departments. Such joint efforts had been launched before on a regional basis, but this was the first nationwide sweep.
Gonzales and Ben Reyna, the director of the Marshals Service, called the sweep a success, though they didn't disclose the target numbers for the operation or know how long the average fugitive had been sought.
Local and state law-enforcement agencies compiled lists of high-priority fugitives for the sweep. The most fugitives—902—were captured in Texas, followed by Tennessee (785), Florida (685) and Ohio (631), the Marshals Service announced.
Gonzales said the campaign, dubbed Operation Falcon and conducted during National Victims' Rights Week, would make neighborhoods safer.
"We know from history that a fugitive with a rap sheet is more desperate, more predatory and more likely to commit the crimes that plague citizens and communities," Gonzales said.
Gonzales' first news conference since taking office in January was also an effort to show that federal law enforcement could crack down on traditional violent crime even as it makes terrorism its top priority.
None of the fugitives, including six captured in Mexico and two in the Dominican Republic, had known ties to terrorism, a marshals official said. Several are suspected of being involved in drug trafficking.
One of the fugitives, Marcel Baldwin, 21, had made the list of Atlanta's Ten Most Wanted for assault and cocaine charges, Gonzales said. Baldwin was captured in the makeshift cellar of a heavily fortified house in Atlanta.
With the emphasis on preventing terrorism since the 2001 attacks, the FBI sent 15 percent fewer cases to federal prosecutors in the last three years, according to a Knight Ridder survey of Justice Department statistics in October. There was a drop-off in organized-crime, drug and white-collar cases.
Reyna, a former police chief of Brownsville, Texas, said the sweep worked because it combined the marshals' investigative skills and national reach with information from local law enforcement. He said he hoped to follow up with similar operations.
Last year the Marshals Service captured 36,000 federal felons, and its regional task forces, involving state and local officers, arrested 31,600 fugitives who were facing state charges, according to its Web site.
With no centralized database on all warrants, it's difficult to estimate the nation's total of fugitives, Reyna said.
Gonzales also commented for the first time Thursday on one of the nation's most prominent fugitives for many years, Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty this week to the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and three other attacks.
Noting that his predecessor, John Ashcroft, had sought the death penalty for Rudolph, Gonzales said the need to find explosives that the bomber had hidden "warranted making the deal" that led to life sentences for him rather than execution.
"Mr. Rudolph is going to be in jail for the rest of his life, and we believe we may have saved additional lives," Gonzales said.
NUMBER OF FUGITIVES ARRESTED
District of Columbia: 115
New Hampshire: 73
New Jersey: 228
New Mexico: 162
New York: 345
North Carolina: 190
North Dakota: 23
Puerto Rico: 69
Rhode Island: 7
South Carolina: 128
South Dakota: 27
West Virginia: 126
Virgin Islands: 3
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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