- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Collecting money for the sniper reward fund was easy large checks and envelopes stuffed with small bills flooded the Montgomery County Executive's Office soon after the first shootings last month.
The fund totals $580,244.77, money from more than 900 contributors, people horrified by the three-week shooting spree who hoped they could do something to help end it and ease the victims' suffering.
The money sits in a county bank account to be distributed to the people who provided the key information that allowed police to arrest the two sniper suspects. Five hundred thousand will go to the reward, the remaining $80,000 for a victims' fund.
It could be in that account for a long time. And as the scope of the attacks grows to earlier shootings in other states, the task gets tougher for authorities deciding which tips were the big breaks and who deserves a payout.
"It's going to be very complex," said county spokeswoman Donna Bigler. "There were a number of tips from all across the country that came at different points during the investigation."
Experts say handing out large rewards like the sniper cash is often a difficult and time-consuming task, because authorities usually can't pay until after cases make their way through the courts.
Any tipster who has been identified publicly or by police can be accused of providing their trial testimony in return for pay, said Margaret Cooper, president of Crime Stoppers USA. The group offers up to $1,000 for crime tips but keeps its sources anonymous and pays right after arrests.
"None of the people in this case will probably be paid until there are at least one if not all of these convictions. That could be years down the road," she said.
During the sniper investigation, the task force, including Montgomery County Police, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, received more than 60,000 tips to a hot line staffed by FBI employees.
The task force eventually will meet to sort through those tips, determine which were the most valuable and send its recommendations for payouts to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's office, where a final decision will be made on distributing the money.
Within the next few weeks, the $80,000 victims' fund will be paid to families of 14 persons shot in the Washington area during the recent spree, said Bruce Romer, chief administrative officer for the county. Tight guidelines apply to those awards money will go only to victims in the Washington area and only to those shot from long range, sniper style.
That means, for example, a Clinton pizzeria owner shot six times on Sept. 5 from a distance of a few feet won't get any money.
Announcing the fund on Oct. 4, Montgomery Police Chief Charles A. Moose said the money would be rewarded for information that led to the arrest and indictment of the sniper suspect.
John Allen Muhammad already has been indicted in Prince William County, Va., and both he and John Lee Malvo were indicted in Louisiana. But Montgomery officials say the reward decision likely won't even be made until after their trials are over.
"The task force has indicated that we should be prepared for it to take quite some time," said Mr. Romer.
FBI spokesman Barry Maddox said little thought has been given to the reward while the cases against the suspects are still open. Montgomery police said the jurisdictions involved in the case will meet after the first trial to discuss the reward.
But who provided the big break in the case?
Police checked out hundreds of tips from people about neighbors who owned guns, who spotted white box trucks or vans or who thought they had been fired upon.
At least two persons called 911 Oct. 24 to report seeing the Chevrolet Caprice police were looking for at a Myersville, Md., highway rest stop.
One of those men, truck driver Ronald Lantz of Ludlow, Ky., called police and then blocked the highway exit ramp with his rig to prevent the suspects from driving away.
Mr. Lantz has been hailed as a hero since then, honored by Pennsylvania state officials and the city of Wilmington, Del. Mr. Lantz has said he'd share the reward money with sniper victims.
But Mr. Lantz may not have been the first to call. Whitney Donahue, a Greencastle, Pa., resident, also dialed 911 several times that morning and may have beaten Mr. Lantz with his call.
As the investigation of the suspects unfolded, authorities traced the pair back to Tacoma, Wash., through an Oct. 15 phone call from Mr. Muhammad's friend Robert Holmes.
Mr. Holmes told the FBI he had a feeling Mr. Muhammad might be the sniper, saying his friend was a marksman and once mused about how much damage a long-distance rifle equipped with a silencer could do. Federal law enforcement officials reportedly have said Mr. Holmes was crucial to cracking the case.
However, the biggest break may have come from the snipers themselves. Police received several calls believed to be from the suspects, urging authorities to probe a Sept. 21 shooting in Montgomery, Ala. Using that tip, police matched a fingerprint from the crime scene to Mr. Malvo.
Montgomery police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said it is likely the reward will be split among several people, but authorities haven't yet identified any top contenders.


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