Some 130 parolees-at-large (PALS) lured by the ruse of easy money and amnesty crowded an Oakland auditorium May 15, unaware they were responding to an elaborate CDCR-crafted sting the eventually resulted in more than 80 PALS being arrested.

“I think they were pretty stunned, to be honest with you,” said Tony Chaus, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), after OCS arranged the elaborate May 15 sting.
Absconded parolees lured by the $200 offer are arrested by law enforcement in Oakland on May 15, 2010. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

Aimed at some of the several thousand parolees who absconded from
supervision, have committed new crimes or have violated conditions of their parole, the ruse featured a website, email account and a fictitious
“amnesty program director.”

OCS sent 2,700 letters to relatives of the wanted individuals advertising the $200 reward and (fake) amnesty.

“In the past, we played on their greed, and now we’re playing on the promise that they might be released from custody,” Chaus said.
The wanted individuals were told that they would either be put on non-revocable parole (NRP) or discharged from parole to help the state cut back on costs and prison overcrowding. They were also told that they were “pre-qualified” for amnesty or discharge, and would receive a $200 check and the arrest warrant would be canceled.

Since the PALS were told the amnesty ended May 16, about 130 parolees showed up in Oakland on Saturday, the day before. After waiting in an auditorium, they told that they would see a counselor first and were taken one at a time—allegedly to see the counselor.

They were arrested in short order and soon en route to Alameda County Jail. All told, 81 who showed up were taken into custody over the weekend.

“Our team targeted the ‘worst of the worst’ for the sting, who in other words were suspects in new crimes or who had outstanding warrants in addition to be at large,” Chaus added.
The OCS added a number of new tools and approaches to how it tracks and apprehends PALS. With those new tools, the CDCR is focusing on those parolees who are considered “bad apples”—whether they were dead or alive.
Since January, CDCR learned that nearly 700 parolees thought to be wanted were dead. Other absconders are being targeted, and before this last weekend, 837 fugitives had been arrested, nearly two-thirds of them sex offenders or dangerous felons.
While this operation was a success, the OCS fugitive apprehension team continues to focus on getting the entire group of wanted felons in custody and off parole agents’ caseloads.

Word to the wise: While the office is mum on its future plans, it’s not ruling out another sting operation.