168 Fugitives Busted by Food Stamps

Fleeing from justice and looking for a hand out

Authorities in Cook County say they've arrested more than 150 fugitives after tracking them down with the help of paperwork the fugitives themselves filled out to collect food stamps.

"Operation Talon" resulted in the arrest of 168 men and women wanted for a host of crimes, ranging from kidnapping and arson to possession of marijuana.

"When you're wanted, you're not eligible to have public assistance," Dart explained Monday.  "As these fugitives purposely evaded justice, they were also ripping off taxpayers by illegally collecting food stamps.

The operation began the week of April 19 and involved the sheriff's office and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Marshals Service's Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force.

People often give an old or fake address when they're arrested, but many of them gave correct addresses on forms to receive public aid, the sheriff said.  Dart's office cross-checked their arrest warrants with the USDA's rolls and were able to come up with over 700 matches.

"By working together with [the USDA], we were able to take data that we normally don't have when we're out looking for people that are wanted and quickly ascertain where they're at and go and arrest them," said Dart.

Cook County has more than 40,000 outstanding arrest warrants.

Some of those arrested may have been on public aid for two years or more, officials said.  It's unclear, right now, how much taxpayer money is involved. 

Dart said technical limitations have prevented them the sting from being done on a regular basis previously. 

Among those busted: 

  • Jacob Sabu, 42, of Mt. Prospect. Wanted for filing fraudulent state income tax returns. Owes the State of Illinois $103,000 in back taxes. He was arrested at O’Hare International Airport after returning to the U.S. on a flight from Abu Dhabi. 
  • Sara Motato, 37, of Chicago. Wanted for criminal damage to property. In January 2010, she was arrested for etching “Rody and Sara” into “Cloudgate” in Chicago’s Millennium Park. 
  • Robert Vasquez, 61, of Chicago Heights. Wanted for possession of marijuana. In February 2009, he was observed retrieving a package - mailed to him at his home – with more than 7,000 grams of marijuana inside. 
  • Christine Williams, 23, of Chicago. Wanted for aggravated kidnapping. In September 2008, she was arrested for kidnapping a woman and locking her in a room, then stripping off her clothes, wrapping a belt around her neck and forcing her to crawl like a dog. Williams held the woman hostage until she could produce $300 cash. 
  • Elaine Sharpe, 55, of Chicago. Wanted for theft. From May 2003 until April 2009, she had been receiving federal housing subsidies from the Chicago Housing Authority and instead of living in her subsidized unit, she was collecting even more money by renting it out. 
  • Leeric Collins, 21, of Chicago. Wanted for arson. In October 2008, he was arrested for throwing a lit bag into the rear of a business and then fleeing on foot. He told investigators he was paid to commit the act and that investigation remains ongoing. 
  • Michael Johnson, 22, of Chicago Heights. Wanted for unlawful use of a weapon. When investigators arrived at his Chicago home, he was found with marijuana and charged with drug possession. Additionally, two others in the house were found to be in possession of guns and drugs and they were also arrested.
  • Cornel Safta, 29, of Chicago. Wanted for aggravated battery. He was arrested in October 2009 for beating a man with his shoe so violently the man suffered blunt force trauma to his head and was hospitalized. The assault came after the victim made what Safta considered to be inappropriate comments toward Safta’s girlfriend.

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