A free vacation in the Bahamas, a ticket to a rock concert, a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., complete with spending money. Maybe there's a valuable package and you have to step outside to sign for it. Or you've been offered -- out of the blue -- a new job at an outrageously high salary.
Is it your lucky day or has your luck run out?
Thousands of criminal suspects faced that question during the past three years and many of them decided they'd hit the jackpot -- only to discover later they had become ensnared in a sting operation orchestrated by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Sunday, the same fate befell 101 fugitives in the Washington area who were lured to the Washington Convention Center by the promise of free tickets to a Redskins game and a drawing for an all-expenses-paid trip to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.
They were taken to a small party room, led in Redskins' hoopla by costumed marshals, then arrested by police. Some were in the midst of singing "Hail to the Redskins" when the party abruptly ended.
The 'Skins ruse was by far the most successful sting by the U.S. Marshals Service since it began employing the tactic three years ago, according to a spokesman for the agency.
In two hours, deputy marshals and D.C. police arrested 101 robbery, rape and arson suspects and others wanted on federal and D.C. Superior Court arrest warrants. In six stings throughout the country, dating from June 1982, marshals have made 197 arrests, many in sting operations that took weeks to unfold.
"The deputies say it's greed" that gets the better of the ordinarily cautious fugitives, said Marshals Service spokesman Steve Boyle. "Many of them are clever enough to escape from custody or to stay out of the criminal justice system for years. But their wisdom is overcome by greed when they are offered something they can't resist."
The Marshals Service is charged by the U.S. Justice Department with apprehending persons wanted on federal warrants, and in 1981 the service formed the Fugitive Investigative Strike Team (FIST) to organize mass roundups of suspects and convicted criminals, Boyle said.
Since then, he said, more than 11,200 fugitives have been arrested in connection with 15,800 outstanding warrants in FIST operations from New York to California, including one here in November 1982 during which 614 persons were arrested in the District and surrounding suburbs.
Most of the FIST operations employ standard police procedures for apprehending suspects, such as going to the fugitive's last known address, interviewing neighbors and friends, and tracking down leads, Boyle said.
During some FIST operations, however, law enforcement officials decide to use a ruse to lure the suspects out of their hiding places. Officials say it is a relatively safe and inexpensive way to track down people who are frequently on the run from the law.
One marshal said that only two weapons were confiscated during the sting because the suspects had come to a party and were not prepared to avoid arrest. The operation cost about $220 per person arrested, compared with an average cost of about $3,000 to track down and arrest a suspect through traditional means, according to Boyle.
"It's a real morale builder for the deputy marshals to feel like they've fooled those who make a career out of fooling others," Boyle said.
Prior to Sunday, the most successful sting was in March 1984 in Los Angeles. There, the Marshals Service set up a fake delivery service, went to suspects' homes and asked them to come out to sign for an insured package. Boyle said 66 persons were arrested in that operation, plus 44 more suspects in an identical sting in New York eight months later.
Another 55 persons were arrested in July 1983 when they were asked to go to a construction site in Detroit to interview for a foreman job, Boyle said.
And in June, 14 persons from the Miami area were arrested when they were told they had won a free trip to the Bahamas.
Though officials said that Sunday's sting went off without a hitch, the local media complained that the Marshals Service had cut them out of the Convention Center activities while allowing film crews from CBS and NBC and at least one out-of-town photographer to take pictures of the arrests.
Boyle said marshals allowed the film crews inside the Convention Center "rather than take a chance on premature publicity . . . . "
About 3,000 invitations were sent concerning Sunday's event, but half were returned because the suspects had moved.
It was unclear why only 101 went to the convention center, Boyle said.
Perhaps the recipients deciphered a small tip included in the letter, which was signed by I. Michael Detnaw.
Spelling the last name backwards, and using only the first and middle initials, it reads: I.M. Wanted.