Eastern N.C.: 367 fugitives arrested

Jim Nesbitt, Staff Writer
The News & Observer

A man wanted by Raleigh police on sexual assault and kidnapping charges was among 367 fugitives in Eastern North Carolina arrested during a one-week sweep by a joint task force operating in 24 states.

Targeting the "worst of the worst," federal, state and local law enforcement agents tracked suspects wanted in North Carolina on charges ranging from weapons and narcotics violations to robbery, assault, financial fraud and car theft, authorities said during a news conference Thursday at the federal building in Raleigh.

Saturday evening, the last day of the fugitive sweep, agents arrested Jose Esteban Ramirez De La Cruz, 32, pulling him off a Houston-bound Greyhound bus after stopping it on a South Carolina freeway, said Tex Lindsey, a deputy U.S. marshal and commander of the N.C. Violent Fugitive Task Force.

De La Cruz was charged with sexually assaulting his former girlfriend at knifepoint in her Northeast Raleigh home at 3 a.m. the same day he was arrested, said Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue.

De La Cruz was one of 20 suspected sexual offenders picked up during the sweep through Eastern North Carolina.

Half of those arrests were for failure to register as a sexual offender with local law enforcement agencies, which is now a federal offense that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

In Wake County, 25 fugitives were arrested, including six wanted on sexual-offense charges, said Sheriff Donnie Harrison. Three of those six were illegal immigrants and deported.

The North Carolina arrests were part of Operation Falcon III, which was conducted Oct. 22 through Oct. 28 and netted nearly 11,000 sexual offense suspects, gang suspects and other fugitives. Local and state law enforcement officers involved in the sweep were sworn in as deputy U.S. marshals so they could cut across jurisdictions to chase fugitives, said Acting U.S. Marshal Robert D. Pettit.

"This is some of the worst of the worst," said Pettit, whose jurisdiction includes Raleigh and much of Eastern North Carolina. "They know they're wanted, and they're ducking us."

The federally led operation put 90 officers a day on the street, hoping to clear 1,100 fugitive arrest warrants, Pettit said. By the end of the sweep, 367 suspects were arrested. More than half of those were people on the run, while 125 involved suspects already in custody on other charges.

The sweep through Eastern North Carolina posted a far higher clearance rate -- more than 37 percent -- than the operation's overall success rate of 13 percent, Lindsey said. The remaining 685 arrest warrants will go back to state and local law enforcement agencies.

This was the third Operation Falcon fugitive sweep, and it resulted in 10,773 arrests in 24 states, Lindsey said. The first netted about 10,000 fugitives, and the second resulted in about 9,000 arrests.

Copyright 2006 The News and Observer

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