March 18, 2010

Violent Crimes Task Force snares 55 suspects in four months

DAVID HENCH

— By

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Arthur Dubois

Charles Michael Limanni, DOB 9/9/1971.

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Staff Writer

Christopher Schors, wanted on felony warrants by five Maine police agencies, thought he had dodged the law by slipping out of state and lying low in Virginia.

Wrong.

Members of the fledgling Southern Maine Violent Crimes Task Force tracked him to his new home -- actually an old stomping ground -- and alerted Virginia authorities, who picked him up. Now he's being held at the Cumberland County Jail, awaiting trial, with bail set at $5,000.

Schors is one of 55 accused felons tracked down by the task force -- the charges range from bank robbery to burglary to drug dealing -- since the interagency effort was launched in July.

''We're very pleased with the success of the unit to get that many people locked up,'' said South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, who chairs a group of southern Maine police chiefs. ''When you get them in jail, they're not on the street committing crime.''

Police chiefs say a surge in violent crime throughout southern Maine demanded a coordinated response. Officers trained in the technology and legwork of tracking suspects are working together to share information and manpower.

Robberies -- often a rash act by desperate people -- jumped 18 percent last year and even more in the Portland area. Maine's largest city saw the number of robberies surge from 99 in 2005 to 150 in 2006, and in 23 cases a gun was used.

''People are just getting bolder and more callous in their criminal conduct. Where someone might have stolen something and run now they're not disinclined to use a gun or a knife or even just the threat of violence,'' said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal John Clark, a native Mainer who spent the past five years working with a task force in Los Angeles.

The local task force was assembled in July with detectives assigned full time from Scarborough, Portland, South Portland, Biddeford, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Marshals Service. Westbrook and the York County Sheriff's Department have assigned officers part time.

''Departments are very strapped these days to provide traditional police services, and they don't necessarily have the time and in some cases the expertise to look for somebody,'' Clark said. ''They don't have the luxury sometimes of being able to commit half-a-dozen people or set up a surveillance for two or three days to look for a person and hold them accountable for their charges.''

The task force is similar to the Central Maine Violent Crimes Task Force formed in the Lewiston-Auburn area 20 years ago. The task forces have worked together, including on the case of a man charged in a baseball-bat robbery of an Auburn McDonald's. Maine has used a similar model for years to fight drug crimes, with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency relying on partner agencies for manpower.

Criminals rarely confine themselves to a single community, so task force members benefit from sharing suspect descriptions and crime methods as well as street rumors and other intelligence. Working with the U.S. Marshals Service, task force members also have access to some of the most advanced databases used to find suspects.

But much of the group's success is the result of diligence.

''We do a lot of surveillance. We do a lot of talking to people,'' said Clark, who equated the effort to a game of hide-and-seek played out across the state and across the country.

''People are creatures of habit. You re-create that person's life while you're looking for them -- who are they related to, who are their friends,'' he said. '' Often they're getting support from other people in the community too, so we identify that source and cut it off.''

Arrests include Charles Limanni, 36, of Scarborough, on charges of robbing a Portland bank earlier this month; Rodney Irvin, arrested on drug charges after being on the run for over a year; John McLean, 27, accused of holding up a Portland Dunkin' Donuts, who was found at a friend's home in Lawrence, Mass.; Arthur Dubois, 49, of Portland, a career criminal who was arrested in Vermont on Maine robbery warrants and was subsequently charged with taking $2,000 from a convenience-store safe there; and Schors, 35, wanted on eight felony warrants by five Maine departments.

Googins said the officer who his department dedicated to the task force is a good investment because the city already was devoting time to tracking down fugitives. The task force improves the department's capability, he said.

''When something happens like an armed robbery or bank robbery, the fact is this unit can get on it right away, and that's tough to do when you have limited resources,'' Googins said.

Portland Deputy Chief William Ridge said that actually tracking down the suspect is only one facet of a detective's job when investigating a crime. The officer has to collect enough evidence for prosecutors to win a conviction.

By delegating the tracking task, detectives can do a better job on other aspects of the investigation, such as coordinating witness interviews.

The task force, formed without any outside funding, uses space provided by the Portland Police Department. This year the unit will have access to a $173,000 Justice Department grant to help pay for overtime and specialized equipment.

Police chiefs say it is too soon to gauge whether the task force arrests have had an impact on the crime problem in southern Maine. Departments typically don't calculate their statistics until the end of the year, and it can be hard to gauge how much crime would have occurred absent the arrests.

Maine's violent crime rate remains low compared with much of the country. Many of the people arrested are sought for less serious crimes than the drive-by shootings and brutal assaults that are commonplace in some major cities. But people on the run can react unpredictably, which can endanger the public or a street officer working a traffic detail.

''We're very fortunate we're still a very safe state, but we cannot overlook the fact we do have violent crime,'' Googins said. ''We have people out there that want to hurt you, want to take your stuff. It's those folks who deserve attention.''

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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John McLean, DOB 05-29-1980

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