HELENA, Mont. – A fugitive who fled international drug trafficking charges 29 years ago was arrested last month when he tried to walk into the U.S. from Canada in hopes of visiting his family, authorities said Monday.
Montana residents driving near the international border spotted Jacob Moritz, age 71 or 72, and another man emerging from the woods early April 15, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Kingsford.
Moritz was one of four defendants indicted in 1989 for smuggling marijuana, hashish and heroin into the U.S. from Jamaica, Morocco, Colombia, Thailand and Lebanon, but he and two other co-defendants disappeared before authorities could apprehend them.
Moritz wouldn't cooperate with the Border Patrol agents who detained him, and they only learned his identity and the New York warrant for his arrest after fingerprinting him.
"From what we understood, it was just him trying to get back into the United States to reunite with his family," Kingsford said.
It was unclear where Moritz was going or whether he had attempted the clandestine border crossing before. In court documents, he signed his hometown as Tampa, Florida. In a financial statement to the court, he wrote that he had $1,800 in cash and that he had been "living with friends."
Kingsford said the man who was with Moritz was a Canadian citizen who was sent back to Canada without being charged.
The area where Moritz tried to cross, Roosville, is a sparsely populated part of northwestern Montana wedged between Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai National Forest.
It's a pretty remote area," Kingsford said. "There are not a lot of people who cross there illegally."
Moritz's attorney, Martin Klotz, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday.
Moritz appeared in U.S. District Court in New York on Monday to finally face charges that include conspiracy to import heroin and marijuana, according to U.S. Attorney for Montana spokeswoman Melissa Hornbein.
According to the indictment, the smuggling ring first started out in 1971 by sailing marijuana from Jamaica aboard a boat called "High Tidings" and delivering it to the ringleader, Long Island businessman named William LaMorte.
Moritz is charged with distributing the drugs after LaMorte received them on his yacht, the "Mary Poppins."
The operation expanded to include smuggling drugs from Morocco, Lebanon and Colombia. It eventually grew so large that freighters were purchased to carry massive amounts of drugs. One shipment held 22 tons of marijuana from Thailand and another held 13 tons of hashish from Lebanon, according to the indictment.
In all, the operation smuggled more than 120 tons of drugs between 1971 and 1985, according to a New York Times article from 1991.
LaMorte was convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 50 years in prison and fined $49.2 million. Co-defendants Fayez Barade and Harry Sunila have been indicted but are still at large.