HELENA – A fugitive who was arrested walking across a remote part of the U.S.-Canada border will face charges dating back to 1989 that he was a member of a trafficking ring that smuggled more than 120 tons of drugs into the country from around the globe.
Jacob Moritz appeared in U.S. District Court in New York City on Monday, three weeks after two people driving in northwestern Montana spotted Moritz and another person emerge from woods near the border.
Moritz, who is now 71 or 72, pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy to import heroin and marijuana. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cott allowed Moritz to reside with his son in Tampa, Florida, after Moritz posted a $100,000 bond and agreed to wear an electronic monitoring device and abide by a 7 p.m. curfew.
Moritz was one of four defendants indicted for smuggling marijuana, hashish and heroin into the U.S. from Jamaica, Morocco, Colombia, Thailand and Lebanon between 1971 and 1985. The ringleader, Long Island businessman William LaMorte, was arrested and convicted in 1991, but Moritz and two other co-defendants disappeared before authorities could apprehend them.
The magistrate also granted a two-week delay in the proceedings “in the interest of justice given (the) age of the case and for possible plea discussions,” Cott wrote in a court document.
Moritz was trying to reunite with his family when he walked across the border early April 15 in sparsely populated area between Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai National Forest, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Kingsford said Monday.
It was not clear if he had been living in Canada for the past 29 years or whether he had used that crossing before. A telephone message left for Moritz’ attorney, Ryan Poscablo, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
In a financial statement to the court, Moritz wrote that he had $1,800 in cash or in a checking account and that he had been “living with friends” without saying where. Kingsford said the man who was with Moritz was a Canadian citizen who was sent back to Canada without being charged.
Moritz declined to 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, Kingsford said.
LaMorte was 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.
According to the Moritz’s original indictment, the smuggling ring first started out in 1971 by sailing marijuana from Jamaica aboard a boat called “High Tidings.”
Moritz is accused in the indictment of 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. One shipment held 22 tons of marijuana from Thailand and another held 13 tons of hashish from Lebanon, according to the indictment.
Moritz and LaMorte had been longtime friends, said Martin Klotz, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted LaMorte’s trial.
Authorities nearly captured Moritz in Spain in 1990, but Spanish agents with an international arrest warrant were a day or two late in raiding the apartment where Moritz was staying, Klotz said Tuesday.
“The trail went completely cold after that,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.