N.Y.: Squad of federal, local law enforcers net 870 suspects

By Anthony M. Destefano, Staff Writer
New York Newsday

When a squad of federal officials and police caught up with suspected fugitive Robert Shells in a Manhattan apartment, they caught him unawares and undressed.

"Put your pants on, please," an officer said to the suspect during the early-morning raid.

Shells, 29, wanted on sex crime charges involving minors in Virginia, was one of nearly 11,000 people who officials said yesterday were nabbed in the latest federal nationwide effort to apprehend fugitives on a wide variety of offenses. Most, like Shells, whose arrest was captured on tape by WPIX/11, were taken by surprise between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28. They generally offered no resistance.

Dubbed "Operation Falcon III," the dragnet was the latest in a series of sweeps that since 2005 have netted more than 41,000 suspects, including 3,144 sex offenders and 681 gang members, said Eugene Corcoran, the head U.S. marshal for the Brooklyn federal court region, which includes Long Island.

Teams coordinated by U.S. marshals and composed of NYPD, other federal agencies and local police corralled 870 fugitives, said Corcoran at a Manhattan news conference announcing the operation here. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales first disclosed the busts at a Washington, D.C., conference earlier yesterday.

The total arrested nationwide and locally included those who were convicted sex offenders but hadn't registered as required by law or were facing arrest warrants for sex crimes, gang violence and other charges. A small number of the fugitives arrested included people wanted by other countries for a variety of charges, including murder, child rape and fraud, officials said.

Out of the New York area total, 110 were grabbed on Long Island, said Michael Pagliughi of the U.S. Marshals Service.

"Fugitives imperil our ability to prosecute them and hamper our ability to put them in jail," said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf. "Fugitive defendants don't respect jurisdictional boundaries ... that is why it is critical that we band together."

As described by federal officials, Operation Falcon III involved a total of 1,063 law enforcement agencies. During the week in which the agents and police carried out the raids, more than 3,000 law enforcement officers worked on any given day.

Locally, a number of arrests were highlighted by officials. They included the case of Lateaf Johnson, whom officials labeled a "documented member" of the Bloods street gang and who was wanted by Suffolk police on robbery charges. Johnson, whose age wasn't given, was found in Wyandanch and arrested Oct. 27, officials said. Investigators said he admitted being a gang member and was found with gang paraphernalia.

In Brooklyn on Oct. 26, task force members arrested John Oakley, wanted by Ohio authorities on charges he raped and sodomized two young girls.

Shells was traced by a task force team to an Upper West Side apartment the morning of Oct. 24. He was wanted by officials in Norfolk, Va., on charges he raped two girls, one of whom was 4 years old, officials said.

Shells, along with Johnson and Oakley, remains in custody.

Copyright 2006: Newsday

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