WASHINGTON – Over 1,600 sex offenders were rounded up in what the government says is the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement effort during a 24-state sweep that netted a total of nearly 11,000 fugitives, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Those nabbed also included gang members and others wanted on a variety of charges from kidnapping to weapons offenses, officials said.
Among the fugitives caught were 1,659 sex offenders — including 971 who failed to register with authorities as required by law.
Dubbed Operation Falcon III — an acronym for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally — the sweep "has made our nation's neighborhoods and children safer by taking off the streets some of the worst sex offenders, violent felons and gang members," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
The operation was led by the U.S. Marshals Service, which was aided by state and local law enforcement departments and more than a half-dozen federal agencies — including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the State Department.
This third operation was centered on the eastern portion of the United States, with the Mississippi River serving as a rough line of demarcation. The operation opened at midnight on Oct. 22 and shut down at midnight Oct. 28. Approximately 3,000 federal and local officers were involved in the sweep, with many of the local officials having been temporarily deputized at U.S. Marshals.
The latest roundup snared more fugitives than similar operations in April 2005 and April 2006, the Justice Department said.
In one case, authorities said they tracked down Allen Marksberry, an unregistered sex offender in Rickman, Tenn., who was convicted in 1996 of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old child. At the time of his Oct. 24 arrest, officials said, Marksberry was baby-sitting several children — all of whom were under 11 years old.
Agents also found pornography and drugs inside Marksberry's home, authorities said, and were led to a separate trailer that had a clear view of a playground and a pair of binoculars inside.
In all, officials said they caught 10,733 fugitives. Among them were 364 gang members and thousands of others sought on kidnapping, robbery, burglary, carjacking and weapons charges. About 140 of those caught were arrested on homicide warrants, with 3,609 arrested on narcotics charges. More than 230 weapons were collected.
Those totals represent a fraction of doors knocked on, liquor store drive-bys, construction site surveillances and tips chased down by agents during the weeklong sweep.
The most recent dragnet was boosted by the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, approved by Congress last summer, which created stricter requirements for sex offenders to register with communities. Six-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and murdered in 1981.
"When the Adam Walsh Act became law this summer the American people expected to see results," said U.S. Marshals Director John F. Clark. "I believe FALCON III fulfilled that promise, thanks to the hard work of Deputy Marshals and their partners serving on our district and regional fugitive task forces. Because of their work we brought fugitives to justice, and we hope we brought a bit of peace to the communities they left behind."
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.