WASHINGTON — Officials from the U.S. Marshals Service admitted Monday that they, too, may have gotten stung during an elaborate football ruse that lured 97 federal fugitives to the Washington Convention Center over the weekend.
A day after boasting that the roundup netted an escaped accused murderer on the list of 10 most wanted felons in the District of Columbia, the officials acknowledged that the man they arrested and hauled off to the lockup is believed to have been the fugitive's father, who has the same name as his son--Charles Watkins.
The elder Watkins apparently responded to a promotional invitation intended for his son from a purported Washington sports television channel to pick up two tickets to Sunday's Redskins-Cincinnati Bengals game. The new firm turned out to be the marshals and metropolitan police, who used the lure in this football-passionate city to apprehend fugitives in what was described as a cost-effective, safe way.
"Either he was trying to scam the scammers and got scammed, or he innocently responded to a letter he thought was meant for him," said Stanley E. Morris, director of the marshals service.
At this point, Morris said, the marshals are not absolutely certain that the Watkins they detained was the father--only that he was not the man they are after. Late Monday night, one marshals official even suggested that he may have been a brother who tried to use Charles' name.
The man they believe to be the elder Watkins realized he had fallen victim to a law enforcement sting when deputy marshals and police leveled shotguns at him and several other "winners" and ordered them to put their hands over their heads, according to authorities.
But, in the hubbub that characterized the arrest and field processing of scores of individuals, the officers did not take his word for it when he protested the mix-up, a marshals spokesman said.
Officers were equipped with a 61-page booklet that carried photographs of the 23-year-old Watkins and other fugitives who had called in their acceptances of the invitation, although this did not save the elder Watkins.
Allowed to Go
Several hours later, at the lockup in the Superior Court building where the fugitives were processed further, Watkins produced identification and convinced the police that they had the wrong man. He could not be reached Monday to learn whether he was freed in time to watch any of the Redskins' victory over the Bengals.
When word reached the command post that Watkins had been arrested early in the operation Sunday, an ebullient Morris declared that no matter how many fugitives the sting caught, Watkins' apprehension made it worthwhile.
Despite the mix-up, Morris had nothing but praise for the operation.