Directly to jail in Monopoly sting

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The Independent Online
When you get a letter in the post offering you something for nothing, particularly if it is cash, there has to be a catch. Usually it's an obligation first to buy something else you have absolutely no use for. On the other hand, it could be instant arrest. Especially if you are a wanted person.

This was the lesson belatedly learned by more than 250 American fugitives who fell for a fun-filled ruse pulled by the finest of New York City. The gullible runaways got their cheques, but of a strictly Monopoly variety, marked with the message: "Go Directly to Jail".

The sting began when the police department sent out 2,800 letters to missing suspects, most of them wanted for small-time misdemeanours, such as drug possession and violation of probation. Purportedly from the "New York Division of Unclaimed Funds," the letters told the recipients that they were owed money and invited them to visit an address in the Bronx to collect it.

More than 800 of the letters were returned "address-unknown". A good number who got them apparently recognised the fingerprints of the law. (The NYPD, after all, tried something similar last Thanksgiving when it tried to snare fugitives with free turkeys).

But enough of them took the bait. Among them was Carlos Carmelio, wanted for possession of marijuana. The young man travelled 3,000 miles by bus from New Mexico to meet his appointment with new-found wealth. He went directly to the Bronx and to the so-called Unclaimed Funds office, where even the receptionist was an agent under cover.

Obviously enjoying themselves, the officers went so far as to have cheques ready for each of their visitors, none of which were bankable. The dud cheques were illustrated with a depiction of a Monopoly card, with the words: "Go Directly To Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200".

Such was the surprise of those caught by the sting that all apparently gave themselves up without violence. "It was so calm," said Deputy Inspector Anthony Kissik. "They just came in and they surrendered."

Mr Carmelio was doubly pained. He had been been expecting not $200 but $6,000. Worse, on his surrender, the police found more marijuana in his coat pockets.