11/02/2006

Marshals net more than 10,700 fugitives

By LARA JAKES JORDAN
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- Nearly 11,000 fugitives, including sex offenders, gang members and others wanted on a variety of charges from kidnapping to weapons offenses, were swept up last week in a 24-state operation, the Justice Department was to announce Thursday.

Among the fugitives caught were 1,659 sex offenders - including 971 who failed to register with authorities as required by law - in what the government called the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement effort.

The sweep, led by the U.S. Marshals Service, "has made our nation's neighborhoods and children safer by taking off the streets some of the worst sex offenders, violent felons and gang members," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a prepared statement.

Gonzales was to discuss the roundup, code-named Operation Falcon III, at a news conference Thursday.

In one case, authorities said they tracked down Allen Marksberry, an unregistered sex offender in Rickman, Tenn., who was convicted in 1996 of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old child. At the time of his Oct. 24 arrest, officials said, Marksberry was baby-sitting several children - all of whom were under 11 years old.

Agents also found pornography and drugs inside Marksberry's home, authorities said, and were led to a separate trailer that had a clear view of a playground and a pair of binoculars inside.

The Oct. 22-28 roundup snared more fugitives than similar operations in April 2005 and April 2006, the Justice Department said.

The most recent dragnet, targeting 24 states east of the Mississippi River, was boosted by the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, approved by Congress last summer, which created stricter requirements for sex offenders to register with communities. Six-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and murdered in 1981.

Hundreds of state and local law enforcement authorities and more than a half-dozen federal agencies - including the U.S. Marshals, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the State Department - helped in the roundup.

In all, officials said they caught 10,733 fugitives. Among them were 364 gang members and thousands of others sought on kidnapping, robbery, burglary, carjacking and weapons charges. More than 230 weapons were collected.

Those totals represent a fraction of doors knocked on, liquor store drive-bys, construction site surveillances and tips chased down by agents during the weeklong sweep.

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