First, Tobias Roche, the 29-year-old chief deputy U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, used a little psychology to figure out how to trick 101 fugitives.
"People are motivated toward prize winning, toward monetary gain," said Roche yesterday. He is low-key, meticulously suited and has an office with the cleanest desk you'd ever want. "You hear about sweepstakes and free prizes and people calling up to be the 20th caller to win something."
Then he took advantage of Washington's mania: "When I first came to Washington, I realized talking to people how hard it was to get tickets to Redskins games," Roche said. "For season tickets, there's a waiting list, I think, for several years."
So, he figured, what if you offered people: 1) complimentary tickets to the Redskins-Cincinnati game, 2) a chance to win 1986 season tickets, and 3) a drawing for a trip to the Super Bowl?
Roche's invitation to a Sunday morning brunch offering the above "three elements," as he called them, netted the U.S. Marshals Service the draw they were after: fugitives wanted for such crimes as assault, robbery, burglary, escape, narcotics violations, rape, arson, fraud, or, in some cases, a combination.
Of course, the Redskins had something to do with giving the sting operation last-minute extra cachet.
"This was a pivotal game for the Redskins, so that was a little luck for us," Roche said.
About 3,000 fugitives were mailed invitations to last-known addresses, and Roche estimates about half actually got them. In a scam like this, according to Roche, you expect to apprehend about 5 percent of that number; in Sunday's operation, perhaps the largest and most successful of its type, the percentage was a little better.
This is not the way the U.S. Marshals Service usually goes after an estimated quarter-million fugitives with outstanding federal arrest warrants. But stings can yield large hauls. And Roche had done this sort of thing before.
"I did the Boy George sting in Hartford," said Roche of a November 1984 operation in Hartford, Conn., when fugitives were invited to photo sessions with Boy George and offered two free tickets to his concert.
In that case, the invitees were told to expect limousines. "We'd pick them up at their residences," Roche said. "They were all dressed up to go to the concert."
Roche got the idea for the Redskins scam in September and went to Herbert Rutherford III, U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, who was enthusiastic. So was Stanley E. Morris, director of the U.S. Marshals Service. "He thought up the name, 'Flagship International Sports Television,' " said Roche of the phony outfit that sponsored the brunch and sent out the invitations. The D.C. Police Department agreed to a joint operation, and then the Marshals Service assigned Robert Leschorn, senior inspector for enforcement operations, to work with Roche on the "brunch."
"Bob and I sat down and basically talked about distractions -- videos, balloons," said Roche. It was Leschorn's idea to have a deputy marshal in a chicken costume and another in an Indian costume parading around the gathering.
"You have to make the situation believable," said Roche, "and put people in the psychological frame of mind to be at ease."
Printed invitations and breathlessly enthusiastic letters, written by Roche, were mailed out. A telephone bank to take reservations was set up. "We had a woman answer the phone and when she put the person on hold, they would hear music as if it were an office," said Roche. The business manager, "Mr. Cran," would take the call. "That was 'narc' spelled backward," said Roche, allowing himself an amused smile. And the president of the organization was I. Michael Detnaw. "Detnaw" is "wanted" spelled backward.
Deputy marshals from outside Washington were also called in for the operation. "If someone had seen a deputy marshal who was recognizable -- 'There's a policeman trying to take me to the football game' -- everyone would have left," Roche said.
There was a Friday night rehearsal and the "actors" arrived at the Convention Center on Sunday 3 1/2 hours before the 9 a.m. expected arrival. A good thing, too. Some excited guests arrived as early as 8 a.m.
Roche was in tuxedo, handling reservations and passing out "Hello, my name is . . ." name tags to arriving guests before they were escorted to a party room on the second floor. "Some were ecstatic," Roche said. "Some were reserved. They were looking forward to the game. Some were dressed up in Redskins outfits."
In addition to the high-profile chicken and Indian, some officers posed as maintenance workers, some as other guests "to judge the mood of the crowd," said Roche -- "to see if anyone was recognizing anyone else." Apparently, no fugitive recognized any fellow fugitive.
Every law officer involved was armed, and a special operations group with paramilitary training was on hand "to deal with anything going wrong," Roche said. "That's always a concern." Two guns were later confiscated among the guests.
"They're pretty safe procedures," Roche said of sting operations. "You know who's coming, you know their backgrounds, what their crimes are, you know what they look like, you've scheduled the location you want them to be in. And it's cost-efficient. You're not spending overtime going to all their relatives' houses looking for them."
Yesterday, back at his desk, he added something of a footnote: Two more fugitives had called up to turn themselves in. Huh?
"We don't ask them why," Roche said smiling. "We're just pleased to have them come in."