Opinion

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Like I Was Saying

The Kingpin Connection

Jacob Moritz was arrested after 29 years on the run

After 29 years on the run, Jacob Moritz apparently decided it was time to reunite with his family. He chose a remote area of the country to cross into the United States from Canada. He chose Northwest Montana, and it would be where his knack for eluding capture would come to end.

On April 15, Moritz and another man were spotted emerging from the woods about a quarter-mile from the border near Rexford, which is about 60 miles north of Whitefish. U.S. Border Patrol agents confronted the two individuals and asked what they were doing in such a secluded area. It was soon determined the men had illegally entered United States, but it wasn’t until the agents fingerprinted them did they learn one of the men had a New York warrant for his arrest and was accused of being part of a notorious drug ring that operated in the 1970s and ‘80s. Moritz was taken into custody. His companion was sent back to Canada.

Last week, Moritz, who is now 71 or 72, appeared in U.S. District Court in New York, 29 years after he was indicted for smuggling marijuana, hashish and heroin into the U.S. from a number countries, including Jamaica and Columbia. It’s unclear how long he had been hiding in Canada. The whereabouts of two of Moritz’s co-defendants, Fayez Barade and Harry Sunila, are still unknown. The fate of the trio’s drug kingpin, however, is well documented.

A fascinating 1991 New York Times profile tells the tale of William LaMorte, a respected Long Island businessman who owned supermarkets throughout Suffolk County and was well-known among his neighbors for hosting parties and fundraisers at his waterfront home.

“One party, held in conjunction with police organizations and attended by dozens of law-enforcement officials,” according to the Times story, “raised money for a wounded police officer and featured a spectacular fireworks display.”

Meanwhile, LaMorte was building a drug empire that would eventually span the globe. What began as a small operation on a small boat, aptly christened High Tidings, LaMorte trafficked about a half ton of marijuana from Jamaica to Florida. His business rapidly grew from there.

According to the Times, “it is estimated that he made at least $15 million from a single shipload that arrived in 1983.” LaMorte would often stash drugs in his Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan.

LaMorte’s downfall can at least partially be attributed to his brother, Thomas, who in 1985, following a drug arrest, began cooperating with investigators. LaMorte’s problems were compounded when that same year two of his boats were seized: the Oregon Beaver near San Francisco in what authorities at the time called the largest marijuana seizure ever in the U.S, and the Ernestina intercepted off Nova Scotia, Canada. Named co-defendants in the Ernestina drug bust were Fayez Barade, Harry Sunila and Jacob Moritz.

LaMorte was eventually convicted, sentenced to 50 years in prison and ordered to pay $49.2 million. Barade, Sunila and Moritz, all indicted in 1989, disappeared and have remained at large ever since.

That is until Moritz emerged from the woods near Rexford on April 15.

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