Pubdate: Sat, 05 Aug 2000
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2000, The Tribune Co.
Author: Vickie Chachere, Associated Press


TAMPA - Federal Agents Say They Captured 85 Percent of Their List of
Fugitives. ``These Are Not Your Low-Level Street Dealers,'' The U.S.
Attorney Says

Four months of rounding up the most elusive drug-trafficking suspects netted
1,015 arrests and $1 million in seized property, federal authorities said

Among those captured were a drug trafficker who is suspected in the deaths
of two government informants; an alleged marijuana supplier accused of
setting up an elaborate indoor farm; and a man charged with using drug money
to provide automatic weapons to Colombian dealers.

``These are not your low-level street dealers,'' said U.S. Attorney Donna
Bucella. ``These are the distributors.''

Among those targeted were alleged high-level drug dealers from Florida and
the Caribbean who had been indicted but never were arrested, and ones who
had jumped bail.

Officials said 119 of the arrested fugitives were from Florida, Jamaica, the
Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean. The remainder were
taken into custody in other states.

The U.S. Marshals Service, working with state and federal agencies, began by
compiling a list of fugitives. They then freed agents from some of their
duties and sent them out on a search.

Agents said they cleared about 85 percent of their list and proudly
proclaimed their operation cost-effective, too. It cost $623 to bring each
fugitive into custody even though many had fled the area and were living
under assumed names.

Capt. Katharine Armentrout, director of the U.S. Justice Department's
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, said many of the fugitives
continued to commit crimes after they fled. One fugitive had been on the run
since 1985.

Armentrout said agents had to track the fugitives using informants,
developing witnesses against them and sorting through aliases before they
could make arrests.

``They were lost for as long as they were because they are good at it,''
said U.S. Marshals Service Director John Marshall.

Among the first taken into custody was Edner St. Louis of Fort Pierce, a
suspected lieutenant in a Haitian crack cocaine ring who is a suspect in the
slaying of two government witnesses. He has not yet been charged with the

Agents said St. Louis made it appear that he had fled Fort Pierce after his
1998 indictment on drug conspiracy charges by shutting off the power and
water to his home. He sneaked in and out of the house at night, living
without running water or electricity.

St. Louis' attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment

Another arrest came in San Diego County, Calif., where agents found Peter
George Elias of Boca Raton, who was indicted in 1997 for operating indoor
marijuana farms in Boca Raton. After three years on the run, agents found
Elias in La Jolla, Calif., living in a $3,500-a- month rented home under an
assumed name.

His arrest led them to another home where agents and the San Diego County
Sheriff's Office found a sophisticated indoor marijuana growing house with a
generator so big it could power 10 homes. The building had extra air
conditioning to prevent heat sensors on drug surveillance planes from
detecting the specialized lights.

West Palm Beach attorney Michael Salnick, who is defending Elias, said the
government is overstating their effort.

``They happened to stumble upon Mr. Elias,'' Salnick said. ``Law enforcement
has made it much larger than it is.''

Salnick said Elias left Boca Raton before he was indicted and wasn't trying
to evade authorities. He also denied that Elias is a high-level drug
trafficker; a trial date is pending.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk