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For Immediate Release

Contact:
November 08, 2013 Andrew Deserto, Assistant Chief Deputy
Northern District of Ohio (216) 522-3499
Task Force Celebrates First Year of Operations in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula Counties

NOVFTF logoCleveland, OH – The Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force was founded by United States Marshal Peter J. Elliott in 2003 in the aftermath of the death of Cleveland Police Officer Wayne Leon, who was shot and killed by a fugitive. On November 1st, 2012, the task force expanded its operations into Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula Counties, and the success is more than anyone ever anticipated. Prior to the expansion, the U.S. Marshals Service office in Cleveland was responsible for conducting fugitive investigations and responding to requests for assistance from local agencies in the three counties.

The Marshals Service dedicated a Deputy U.S. Marshal to coordinate the task force and he was joined by 29 task force officers representing 21 police agencies in Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula Counties. These task force officers still perform their regular duties at their local departments in addition to serving on the fugitive task force.

The task force primarily focuses its efforts on those people who are wanted for crimes of violence and drug related offenses, but will assist agencies with other types of crimes as needed. During their first year the task force has been responsible for over 200 arrests. The task force has made 6 arrests for homicides, and numerous arrests for other crimes of violence such as robbery, assault, rape and domestic violence. Heroin and methamphetamine driven crimes such as thefts, burglaries and frauds are also a major focus of the task force. It is not uncommon for one fugitive to have multiple warrants in multiple jurisdictions as a result of them committing numerous crimes to support their drug habit. Although some of these are not violent crimes, these criminals are victimizing hard working citizens and business owners in order to feed their drug habits, and the more desperate they get, the more dangerous they become to the public. During the course of these arrests task force officers have recovered over $30,000 in cash, numerous items of stolen property, 3 firearms, 6 ounces of heroin, and 105 grams of cocaine. Some of the more notable cases are listed below:

March 27th, 2013: The task force, acting on a request from authorities in Alabama, located and arrested Fernando King who was wanted for a homicide that had occurred during a home invasion in Alabama. The fugitive was found hiding in a house in Painesville and was arrested without incident.

April 15, 2013: The U.S. Marshals Capital Area Task Force arrested Geauga County fugitive Robert Suarez when he was found hiding in a trailer outside of Richmond, VA. Suarez was wanted for assaulting a peace officer, being a felon in possession of firearm, resisting arrest and domestic violence. Suarez was one of the first fugitives targeted for Geauga County when they joined the task force and investigators followed up on leads in 5 states before he was found in Virginia.

July 23rd, 2013: Willard Wigfield was tracked to an apartment complex in Orlando where he was arrested after he fled into a swamp in an attempt to avoid capture by the U.S. Marshals Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force. Wigfield had been convicted of rape in Lake County and on the date he was supposed to appear for his sentencing he faked suicide and went on the run. The task force arrested two people aiding him in his escape and followed up on leads throughout Ohio and eight other states before finally locating him in Florida.

October 16th, 2013: At approximately 9:00pm, after an exhaustive 13 hour search, members of the task force arrested Christopher Rusinyak and Jennifer Crawford in a squalid trailer in Garfield Heights. Both subjects fled their Willowick home with their two infant children after a judge granted emergency custody to the state. Officers also located both children in the trailer and transported them to TriPoint Hospital for treatment.

U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott stated, “The dedication of the task force officers and the cooperation between the law enforcement agencies in the three counties is the driving force behind the success of the task force and I fully expect the successes to continue.”

Painesville Police Chief Troy Hager stated, “As President of the Lake County Association of Chiefs of Police, we want to thank Marshal Elliott for putting this great program together and then bringing it to Lake County departments. Criminals and fugitives move all around and most stand-alone police agencies do not have the resources to accomplish what this task force did. On this first anniversary of bringing the task force to Lake County law enforcement, and with over 200 local criminals arrested as a result of this task force, this confirms we can accomplish greater things when we work together.”

Willoughby Police Chief Jack Beckwith stated, “The Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force has proven to be a significant asset to law enforcement for our entire area. Not only are they placing hundreds of wanted fugitives into custody but uncovering and making arrests in new criminal activity. Our participation in the task force has proven to be invaluable. The way all the divisions coordinate is like having 300 more officers spread throughout the area and available when you really need them. I am proud that our Department is involved in this unified endeavor and will continue to support this effort in 2014.”

One of the first fugitives the task force began looking for was Juan Plass. Plass was, and still is, wanted on a cold case warrant for rape that was issued by the Mentor Police Department in 2003. During the investigation officers were told that Plass fled to Puerto Rico immediately after the warrant was issued and that he was murdered shortly after his arrival there. However, exhaustive investigation and searching turned up no evidence to support his family’s claim that he is dead. The task force is asking for the public’s help in trying to locate Plass. He is described as a 29 year old Puerto Rican male with black hair and brown eyes. At the time of the crime he was 5’07” and weighed 130 pounds. Plass has family in Lake County, New York City and Puerto Rico.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Juan Plass or any other known fugitive is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force at 1-866-4WANTED or Text keyword WANTED and tip to TIP411 (847411) Tipsters can remain anonymous and reward money is available.

The Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force – Painesville Division is composed of the following federal, state and local agencies: U.S. Marshals Service, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Offices, Lake County Narcotic’s Agency, Ashtabula County Adult Probation, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Fairport Harbor Police Department, Mentor Police Department, Painesville Police Department, Willoughby Police Department, Willoughby Hills Police Department, Wickliffe Police Department, Eastlake Police Department, Willowick Police Department, Mentor on the Lake Police Department, Middlefield Police Department, Burton Police Department, Chester Township Police Department, Ashtabula Police Department, Conneaut Police Department, and the North Kingsville Police Department.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at http://www.usmarshals.gov.

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