An international sting that tricked alleged criminals into using an FBI-monitored messaging app has led to the arrests of more than 800 people internationally and is being hailed as one of the largest operations of its kind.
Inventing a fake documentary
Belgian police managed to arrest the notorious Somali pirate Mohamed Abdi Hassan in 2013 after convincing him that they were part of a film crew who wanted to make a documentary inspired by his adventures on the high seas.
Abdi Hassan, known as “Big Mouth,” was believed to have been behind the hijacking of a Belgian-flagged ship several years earlier. After being lured to Brussels, he was arrested at the airport and ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Creating a fake airline
In 1985, a brand new airline began running what looked like a promotional gimmick: mailing out letters that promised a free weekend trip to the Bahamas for each lucky recipient.
But despite having a realistic-looking ticket counter next to Air Haiti in Miami International Airport, Puño Airlines did not really exist. The plan had been cooked up by the U.S. Marshals Service, which had sent out the letters to more than a dozen fugitives. One was stopped when he turned up at the airport, while the others were arrested as soon as they climbed inside the limousine that had come to pick them up.
Pretending to get married
Revelers who traveled from around the world to attend a wedding aboard a luxury yacht off the coast of Atlantic City in summer 2005 were in for a surprise. The couple that many of the guests had known for years was actually a pair of undercover FBI agents, and the celebration was a sting operation targeting an international smuggling and counterfeiting operation based out of China.
Eight guests were stopped by police on their way to the event as part of a larger series of raids that led to the arrest of 87 people in Canada and the United States, the Guardian reported at the time. Authorities said that the group had been smuggling highly realistic U.S. counterfeit currency, bootleg cigarettes, drugs and illegal weapons.
Offering free football tickets
One of the most successful sting operations in law enforcement history managed to ensnare more than 100 wanted fugitives in the Washington area with the promise of Washington Football Team tickets. To pull off the scheme, U.S. Marshals invented a fake television channel, Flagship International Sports TV, and invited criminals to a pregame party where undercover officers posed as cheerleaders and hugged fans to try to sense if they were carrying weapons.
“In D.C., that was the Holy Grail of bait,” Robert Leschorn, a team fan who wrote the operations plan for the sting, told The Washington Post in 2015.
British police officer pleads guilty to kidnap and rape of Sarah Everard — a case that outraged the nation.