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Record haul: 1,102 sex predators in a week

Alberto Gonzales, John Clark
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, right, and U.S. Marshals Service Director John F. Clark announce results of a seven-day nationwide fugitive roundup on Thursday in Washington, D.C.Caleb Jones / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 1,100 people wanted in connection with violent sex crimes were among 9,037 fugitives arrested in a weeklong roundup, top law enforcement officials said Thursday.

The arrests were made as part of “Operation Falcon II,” a 27-state dragnet led by the U.S. Marshals Service and timed to coincide with National Victims Rights Week.

This year’s focus was on sex offenders, a group that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has made a priority in his 15 months at the Justice Department. The operation “targeted the worst of the worst,” Gonzales said at a news conference at the Justice Department.

During the week of April 17-23, federal, state and local authorities arrested 1,102 people wanted for violent sex crimes or for failing to register as a sex offender after a prior conviction for sexual assault.

It was the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement operation, the department said. The arrests were made mainly in states west of the Mississippi River, and also in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Among those caught was William Wisham, who authorities said failed to register as a sex offender when he moved to a motel in Victorville, Calif. Investigators found letters to children, notes explaining why he enjoys sex with children, child pornography, candy and methamphetamines, authorities said.

Police are working to locate children listed in Wisham’s diary-style notes.

In Oahu, Hawaii, police arrested Herbert Damwijk, who is wanted in Washington state on two counts of child rape and molestations against 8-year-old girls, the department said. He was arrested April 17 at his father’s residence and awaits extradition to Washington.

Half a million dollar effort
The Marshals Service spent $531,000 on the weeklong exercise, most of it to pay overtime to local and state police, said David Dimmitt, chief deputy U.S. Marshal. More than 2,100 officers from 786 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies took part.

A second phase, targeting the eastern United States, will occur in coming months, Gonzales said.

Last year’s sweep netted more than 10,000 fugitives, 10 times the average in a week, but just 1 percent of the 1 million fugitives in the FBI’s national database. Marshals Director John Clark said there are a “few million fugitives” in the United States, most of them wanted on state and local charges.

Marshals arrested 35,500 federal fugitives for all of the government budget year that ended Sept. 30. They worked with state and local authorities to nab another 44,000 people, according to the Marshals’ Web site.