SALISBURY, MD., JAN. 30 -- The enticement of a free trip to Atlantic City persuaded 45 alleged drug dealers, thieves and traffic violators to show up today for a bogus travel club meeting, where police promptly arrested them.
The police sting operation led to the arrest of nine alleged felons, including a man accused of embezzling $50,000, and a major area drug dealer, said state police spokesman Greg Shipley.
The Wicomico County Narcotics Task Force, comprising county, Salisbury city and Maryland state police as well as the county state's attorney's office, arranged the meeting under Operation Free Ride, police said.
The police departments had turned over many of their outstanding warrants to the task force, which sent out 800 letters to suspects in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia from a bogus group called the "New Time Fun Travel Club."
"As a way of promoting our new service, your name has been selected to receive a free two-day bus trip to the Las Vegas of the East, beautiful Atlantic City, N.J.," the letter said. It outlined various treats, including free bus transportation, free accommodations and "500 dollars in free chips."
"The only thing we ask in return," the letter said, "is your attendance at a brief presentation explaining the benefits of membership in the New Time Fun Travel Club."
About 100 people, including the suspects and their dates, were greeted by well-dressed undercover officers and treated to a brunch and dance at the civic center, Shipley said.
Officers took people in groups of 10 to separate rooms under the guise of showing them a slide presentation on the travel club, Shipley said.
"During the time the guy started to explain, SWAT teams entered and arrested them," Shipley said.
Officers on the scene described the suspects' reactions as "shock and disbelief," he said. All were arrested without incident.