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Canada After 29 years on the lam, fugitive accused drug smuggler caught crossing into Montana from B.C. woods

15:10  09 may  2018
15:10  09 may  2018 Source:   nationalpost.com

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– 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

(AP) — 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

William F. LaMorte had it all: a fantastic wife, three great kids, a helicopter, a 110-foot yacht called the Mary Poppins and a 19-room mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island, N.Y. LaMorte was active in county politics, and would throw lavish parties on his front lawn, serving clams — and inviting the neighbours — a public life he paid for by the chain of grocery stores he owned, or so people presumed, until 1991, when he was sentenced to 50 years in prison and fined $49.2 million for being the kingpin behind an international drug smuggling ring.

The criminal enterprise stretched from Colombia to Thailand, and involved importing marijuana, hashish and later heroin into the United States by the boatload. It was wildly lucrative and held together by a tight knot of LaMorte’s smuggler-friends, including Jacob Moritz, who disappeared along with two other of the co-defendants before the police could apprehend them.

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Helena, Montana : A fugitive who fled international drug trafficking charges 29 years ago was arrested last month when he tried to walk into the US from Canada in hopes of visiting his family, authorities said on Monday.

Authorities say a fugitive wanted for 29 years on drug smuggling charges was caught trying walk into the U.S. from Canada.

It was an enduring vanishing act that ended for Moritz in mid-April — 29 years after it began. The fugitive and an unidentified Canadian were seen wandering out of the B.C. woods and into northwestern Montana along a remote stretch of the international frontier. U.S. Border Patrol agents detained the pair, though were unaware of Moritz’s identity — or notorious past — until they ran his fingerprints through the system and found that he was wanted in New York. (His companion was sent back to Canada and is not facing charges.)

“Moritz was an original friend of LaMorte’s,” says Marty Klotz, a New York litigator who, a legal lifetime ago, was an assistant district attorney in New York and lead prosecutor in the government’s case against LaMorte, Moritz, Harry Sunila and Fayez Barade — both of whom remain at large.

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HELENA — Authorities say a fugitive wanted for 29 years on drug smuggling charges was caught trying walk into the U.S. from Canada. Jacob Moritz appeared in U.S. District Court in New York City on Monday.

Helena, Montana : A fugitive who fled international drug trafficking charges 29 years ago was arrested last month when he tried to walk into the US from Canada in hopes of visiting his family, authorities said on Monday.

Klotz said he was “surprised” to learn of Moritz’s arrest. To the best of his recollection, the now 72-year-old fugitive, who has collar length grey hair, was last seen in Spain, where he narrowly escaped being apprehended by Spanish police on the eve of the 1990 trial.

“After that, he fell off the radar,” Klotz says.

When he reappeared in Montana, Moritz was carrying $1,800 cash. He informed authorities he had been “living with friends” and was on his way to visit family. In court documents, he noted his hometown as Tampa Bay, Fla.

“From what we understand, it was just him trying to get back into the United States to reunite with his family,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Langford said.

The drug running empire Moritz allegedly helped LaMorte build started inauspiciously in Jamaica in the early 1970s. The smugglers sailboat — the High Tidings — sank off of Florida with a half ton of marijuana aboard. LaMorte spent six months in a Cuban jail thereafter. From then on, however, business boomed. By 1983, the operation was netting up to $15-million per shipment. The smugglers installed trash compactors on their boats to pack down the pot, maximizing the amount of cargo they could carry.

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— 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

One of the boats, the Ernestina, was intercepted by the Canadian Navy off Nova Scotia in 1985, and surrendered peacefully after a pursuit. LaMorte was sentenced in March 1991. The New York Times reported that he told the judge that, “until 1979, I was a scared kid running around trying to get approval from his father,” but that after his father died he had become a “very good and loving and giving person.”

fugitive-2: Jacob Moritz© Missoula County Sheriff's Office Jacob Moritz

Klotz remembers the kingpin as an “interesting individual,” who made a fortune smuggling drugs — about 120 tons between 1971 and 1985 — then retired from the business a few years before his past caught up with him. LaMorte died in 2007 in Mount Vernon, Wash. His family asked those looking to contribute in his name to donate to an Indigenous school in Ashland, Mont., just a few hundred kilometres from where Moritz, his old accomplice, was arrested.

Klotz, the former prosecutor, can’t say how the government will approach Moritz’s case today, in a climate where marijuana is now legal in several states.

“I’m not sure what the prosecutors will do,” he says. “I remember there was an issue at the time where this did not seem like behaviour that was as troubling as cocaine or crack or heroin. But, on the other hand, it was extremely large quantities (of marijuana and hashish), and there was no question that the participants knew what they were doing was illegal, and the business was as profitable as it was, in significant part, because it was illegal.”

On Monday, Moritz pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in New York City, and was released after posting a $100,000 bond. The longtime fugitive has been ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device while he stays with his son in Florida, awaiting what comes next.

— With files from the Associated Press and The New York Times news service

• Email: joconnor@nationalpost.com | Twitter: oconnorwrites

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