On the trail of military fugitives
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 21, 2003
The Air Force believes Toni Lynne Zito is on the run somewhere in Europe.
But she’ll be bucking the odds if she manages to evade military law enforcement agents forever.
“If they decide to take off and run, they will not be out there for long,” said Kevin Chen, a special agent for the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations and manager of the agency’s most-wanted fugitive program.
Zito, facing a court-martial at RAF Mildenhall, England, for illegal possession and shipment of firearms, left her post on Oct. 3 and is believed to be in Sicily or Germany, according to Chen. The 5-foot-6, 150-pound Zito may be traveling with her Italian national husband, Roberto Zito.
She’s one of only two airmen still on the lam since the OSI consolidated its fugitive program in 1997. Since that time, the agency has captured 62 fugitives around the world who left their bases while awaiting charges ranging from murder to writing bad checks.
In fact, the agency has been so successful in recent years that it no longer can maintain a “Top 10” list. There are currently nine fugitives listed on its Web site, and seven of those left their posts before the program consolidation.
“Before that, there wasn’t a central effort to go out and look for fugitives,” Chen said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We had a lot of people flee in the ’80s and ’90s who are still on the list. But since the program started, we’ve been very successful.”
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service also have hundreds of agents around the globe looking for soldiers and sailors on the run, and the Internet is helping them more than ever.
“We get a lot of tips from the Internet site,” Chen said. Many either provide information that is already known or that doesn’t lead anywhere. But some have contributed to the capture of those on the run.
Sara Johnson, a public affairs specialist for the NCIS, said the capture of at least 10 fugitives could be attributed to postings on her agency’s Web site.
In fact, of the six fugitives recently posted on the site, three wanted posters had “CAPTURED” on them in large red letters.
Those three include Joshua Aaron Harvey, who was charged with robbery and assault while based at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece. Johnson said Harvey turned himself in to authorities in Great Lakes, Mich., and was sent back to Souda Bay to face trial.
Another sailor on the NCIS site is Harley Chris Defreitas. He fled NSA Naples and is under investigation for theft of a military computer and photographic equipment. The NCIS poster indicates he might be in Australia or Brazil.
Johnson said the NCIS is currently redesigning its Web site and its fugitive listings may change because of that.
That’s also the case with the Army’s criminal investigative unit, according to Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the agency commonly known as the CID. He said the agency has traditionally posted information on fugitives more on regional CID sites and has targeted releases to media outlets in those areas.
“We’ve had a good success rate,” he said. But creating an agency “most-wanted” list on a central Web site is a possibility during the redesign.
Of course, just putting a mug shot and information on a suspect on the Internet or publicizing a fugitive on the run doesn’t guarantee a capture.
David A. Hemler is one of those listed on the OSI site. He left his post with the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany, on Feb. 10, 1984 — more than a decade before the agency consolidated its program.
Military law enforcement officials say they are always seeking tips on fugitives wanted by the various branches. People with information should contact their base law enforcement agency or communicate through the following Web sites:
— Stars and Stripes