OPELIKA, Ala. – The sheriff of Lee County, Ala., smoked out a dozen suspected deadbeat parents using the lure of the state's biggest football game and a bit of ingenuity.
Knowing the lure of the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Alabama fans, Capt. Van Jackson from the Sheriff's Office put together one of the most creative stings in recent memory, FOX Sports South reported Friday.
"Because Auburn had such a tremendous season, we thought we'd send letters out telling people we were giving away Iron Bowl tickets," Jackson said.
But with season tickets for defending national champion Auburn's home games selling out months ago and individual game tickets not due to go on sale until a few weeks before the games are played, the "priceless" tickets being offered in the "You Have Won!" letters never actually existed.
Nonetheless, the letters went out to local residents with outstanding warrants alleging unpaid child support. To the astonishment of just about everyone, a dozen suspects showed up to collect their prize.
"It was an idea that just grew out of conversations here at the agency," Jackson said. "We wanted to do something because we had some very large outstanding child-support warrants, and we wanted to come up with a sting operation to lure those people in. Obviously with the [football] season coming up, the timing was important."
Execution was important as well, and the Sheriff's Department pulled it off to perfection. In a storefront with balloons and banners in the front and handcuffs and school buses in the back, deputies dressed in Auburn and Alabama shirts cheered as one suspect after another strolled in with their letters and photo IDs.
"They were very excited, right up to the point where we got them in the back and put the cuffs on them," Jackson said. "We had one guy ask us if he still got his tickets after we'd booked him in. That was pretty funny. We all got stories to tell for the rest of our lives."