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Michigan sex offender fugitive arrested in California after 20-year search

A Michigan felon on the run for more than 20 years has been arrested in California, the U.S. Marshals Service said Tuesday.

James Meece was convicted in 1991 of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to three to 15 years in prison after sexually assaulting the young daughters of a woman he was dating, investigators said in a statement.

Meece, featured in an episode of the TV series “In Pursuit with John Walsh" this year, "threatened to kill them and their mother if they revealed the abuse," according to the release.

He was required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and paroled in May 1999, but within six months Meece had absconded, sparking an arrest warrant, U.S. Marshals officials said.

In 2011, the U.S. Marshals Service Eastern District of Michigan adopted the case. Last year, authorities obtained a warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

In 2018, investigators learned Meece was linked to a woman in El Monte, California. A probe found they wed in Las Vegas in July 2001. The couple worked to keep the relationship secret and the woman used aliases for him, federal authorities said.

The woman denied knowing Meece when investigators reached her last year. But  interviews with neighbors and relatives said she was married to a man named Anthony Bennetti, whose description nearly matched Meece.

They also said Bennetti made claims similar to those by Meece, "who had falsely passed himself off as a U.S. Army Green Beret, a Vietnam veteran, a prisoner of war, a CIA agent, an FBI agent, a U.S. Marshal and member of other law enforcement agencies to gain the trust of women he later raped and defrauded or whose children he sexually assaulted," authorities reported Tuesday.

Following delays due to COVID-19, investigators executed a search warrant at the woman's home on July 29, where they found and arrested Meece without incident. The officials also recovered a sniper rifle and fraudulent identity documents the 71-year-old had allegedly used, U.S. Marshals said.

“This arrest demonstrates the tenacity of U.S. Marshals investigators and everyone who participated in taking this dangerous individual off the streets, not only in the Eastern District of Michigan, but also the Central District of California, the Southern District of California, and many components of the agency’s Investigative Operations Division," said Owen Cypher, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Michigan.

"I am confident without their support, James Meece would still be victimizing women and children.”

Investigators believe Meece may have more victims who have not come forward. Anyone who believes they may have been victimized is asked to contact the U.S. Marshals Service Communications Center at 1-800-336-0102 or submit a tip online.  

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