Crime Pays in Philly, If You Leave The State

USA Today exposé: Philly won't extradite criminals who cross state lines.

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Philly is among the nation’s leading crime-ridden cities that doesn’t bother to pursue criminals who cross state lines, USA Today reports today. That’s true even when other states have Philly fugitives in custody: The city simply won’t bother with the extradition process to get to fugitives back.

It’s not just a Philly problem: “Police in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Little Rock — all among the nation’s highest-crime cities — told the FBI they wouldn’t pursue 90% or more of their felony suspects into other states,” the story says. Officials don’t want to bother because “they don’t want to pay the cost or jump through the legal hoops required to extradite” cross-state fugitives.

But the paper makes clear Philly has a particular problem because of the practice, noting that seven people have been killed by the city’s fugitives who weren’t pursued. And it highlighted the case of Thomas Terlecky — a man accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl here in 1996, who escaped prosecution by fleeing to Miami.

The police in his new hometown know that Terlecky is a fugitive, and they have tried repeatedly to return him to Philadelphia — both before and after he was convicted of having sex with two other underage girls in Florida. As recently as November, police handcuffed Terlecky and called Philadelphia authorities to tell them their fugitive had been found.

But just like every time before, the authorities in Philadelphia refused to take him back.

Terlecky, wanted in Philadelphia for a first-degree felony, was surprised. “Why would they not extradite on a felony warrant?” he said in an interview. His only guess: “This wasn’t a case where I forcefully grabbed the kid. That’s the only reason I’m thinking why they won’t push to bring me back.”

Prosecutors said they didn’t chase Terlecky because the woman he is accused of assaulting was uncooperative.

“That’s not true,” the woman said when USA TODAY contacted her this year. She asked not to be identified to protect her privacy.

Let’s place responsibility for this where it lies: According to USA Today’s database — featuring warrants outstanding in May 2013 — Philadelphia County Probation has issued nearly 5,000 warrants (more than half for probation violations) and pursued extradition in precisely none of the cases. Similarly, 100 percent of Philadelphia Municipal Court’s 15,000 warrants are also “non-extraditable.” The Philadelphia Police Department is an exception: All but 6 percent of the warrants it procures are considered “non-extraditable.”

“We’re trying to use our limited resources to prosecute heavy hitters,” said Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney Laurie Malone, who runs the city’s extradition unit. “We don’t have a crystal ball.”

The lesson to Philly criminals seems clear. You don’t have to bother with “don’t snitch.” Just cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as soon as you can, and you’ll get to go free.