Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Off the Lam: 52 Wanted on Warrants Nabbed in Sting

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Off the Lam: 52 Wanted on Warrants Nabbed in Sting

Article excerpt

The official-looking letter promised recipients $2,500 in cold cash. What they got was more like hard time.

A sting operation directed by Attorney General Jay Nixon snared 52 people in Sedalia, Mo., this week. Those targeted were wanted on outstandin g warrants from Pettis, Saline and Johnson counties for various property and drug offenses.

Nixon's office sent out close to 1,000 letters from a fictitious state agency, the Missouri Department of Consumer Services. The letters said recipients were entitled to $2,500 refunds as a result of a consumer fraud investigation of a national sweepstakes company.

Those who took the bait made appointments to claim their money at a storefront office in Sedalia, in west-central Missouri. They drove in from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois, as well as parts of Missouri. When they arrived, they were handcuffed and jailed - a little more than half of them for misdemeanors, the rest for felonies.

Pettis County Sheriff Gary Starke said: "We had everyone from someone who had written a $6 bad check to someone who'd written a $2,000 bad check. Whether it's $6 or $2,000, it's still a violation of the law."

Nixon, who has nicknamed the sting Operation Lam Scam, called those arrested "fugitives from justice." But some of the targets said they hadn't been hiding and were unaware they were wanted.

A 77-year-old man from Ralls County, Mo., spent several hours in jail before officials realized the bad-check charge against him had been dropped and the warrant should have been canceled. Harley "Gene" Helle's family is livid.

"It's fraud and deceit, sending out that thing on a state letterhead," said Helle's son, George Helle, 40, of Bowling Green. His father bounced a check in 1993 but later made the check good. He has lived at the same address for years and was never notified of an outstanding warrant, his son said.

Buck Venable, chief warrants officer for the Pettis County Sheriff's Department, said a few slip-ups were qi inevitable. …

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