Fugitive Michigan Sex Offender Arrested After 20-Year Search

WWJ News
August 06, 2020 - 9:52 am
James Meece

(Photos: U.S. Marshals)

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(WWJ) He fled the state and evaded capture for more then 20 years, and lied about being a veteran and prisoner of war to get women to help hide him. 

The U.S. Marshals in Central California have arrested a Michigan man convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls, and who was recently profied in an episode of TV's “In Pursuit with John Walsh.”

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James Meece, 51, was convicted in 1991 of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree  and sentenced to a term of three to 15 years in prison. Acording to federal authoritie, had sexually assaulted the daughters, ages 9 and 12, of a woman he was dating n Escanaba, Michigan, and threatened to kill them and their mother if they revealed the abuse.

As a result of his conviction Meece was deemed a Tier 3 sex offender by the state of Michigan and required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He was paroled in May 1999, but by November 1999 he had absconded, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

In September 2000 the Michigan State Police got a warrant for Meece for failure to register as a sex offender, and in 2011, the USMS Eastern District of Michigan Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team adopted the case.

In late 2017 the case transferred to the USMS Investigative Operations Division’s Sex Offender Investigation Branch, and in August 2019 a warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was obtained for Meece in the Eastern District of Michigan.

James Meece
(Photos: US Marshals Service)

That's when the feds finally picked up his trail. 

In 2018 investigators uncovered information that linked Meece to a woman in El Monte, California. As it turned out,  she had married Meece in Las Vegas, Nevada, in July 2001.

Further investigation revealed Meece and the woman had gone to great lengths to keep the marriage concealed. Beginning in late summer 2018 investigators discovered numerous indicators that the woman was still in contact with Meece and revealed several things she had done on his behalf, using different aliases for him.

In January 2019 investigators contacted the woman, who they say denied knowing Meece. Numerous interviews of the woman's neighbors and family revealed they knew her to have been married to a man named Anthony Bennetti, they had not seen Bennetti since approximately 2004, and the woman had lived alone since Bennetti left her.

The woman's family and neighbors provided a description of Bennetti that was very similar to Meece and provided stories of claims by Bennetti that were similar to claims made 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.

Throughout 2019, investigators continued to observe the woman and by the spring of 2020, had obtained a warrant from the USAO in Central California to search her home, but its execution was delayed due to COVID-19.

In July 2020 SOIB investigators obtained a search warrant for the woman's home in the U.S. District Court for Central California. On July 29, USMS investigators, assisted by the El Monte Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s EOD Unit, and the Los Angeles FBI EOD Unit, executed the search warrant for the woman’s home where they located and arrested Meece without incident. Upon execution of the search warrant numerous items were located and recovered, including a sniper rifle and various fraudulent identity documents Meece had used during his time as a fugitive.

“I am so proud of the teamwork the USMS displayed to get a truly dangerous individual off the street,” said Owen Cypher, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Michigan, in a news releaase. “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. 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 yet come forward. Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of Meece is encouraged to contact the nearest USMS District Office, the U.S. Marshals Service Communications Center at 1-800-336-0102, or submit a tip online using USMS Tips.