Fugitive Arrested on Drug Charges in West Palm Beach Three Decades after Fleeing Federal Trial

leifertlaw January 27, 2011 Drug CrimesFelony

A 62-year-old man is facing drug charges in West Palm Beach after authorities arrested him at a senior living community in connection with federal drug charges filed more than 30 years ago, according to the Miami Herald.

The defendant is accused of being a member of the infamous Black Tuna Gang, the biggest marijuana-smuggling operation of its time, when he skipped out on his federal trial. He was charged along with 13 others as part of the biggest pot importation case in the nation’s history.

Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers have seen an increase in the number of cold-case prosecutions in recent years. In large part because of the advent of DNA databases (to which many convicted felons must contribute a sample, thereby matching defendants to old crimes that would otherwise never be solved.) These cases often result in arrest and prosecution years or even decades after the fact.

In many cases, defendants mistakenly think statutes of limitations will prevent them from being prosecuted. This is often not the case. In this case, in which the defendant had already been charged but escaped prior to conviction, the government convicted him anyway. In other cases the government will often argue that time stopped, until such time that the defendant can be located and returned to face the charges. In cases that involve new charges, as when a defendant is newly identified after a lengthy period of time, lawmakers continue to pass laws permitting prosecution even after the statute of limitations would otherwise have passed.

Such cases create a significant hazard for a defendant: Witnesses are often dead or unable to be located and evidence is frequently lost or destroyed. Exercising your right to remain silent, and consulting with an attorney at the earliest opportunity, is usually the best course of action for protecting your rights.

In this case, the Herald reports the judge is still on the bench and the defendant was convicted in absentia of racketeering, possession and distribution charges.

A joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation took down the gang in 1979; members were accused of smuggling more than 500 tons of marijuana into the country during a 16-month period.

Following his arrest, the defendant was released on $25,000 bond and took part in his trial for more than a month before disappearing. Authorities had information that he was living under an assumed name in Chile in 1993. He was later believed to be in Germany. In 2001, he was believed to be renting a New York penthouse for $10,000 a month.

Late last year, authorities discovered he had been issued a Florida driver’s license under his own name.

If you are facing criminal charges in Broward or Palm Beach counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

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