Byron Moreno, the referee involved in Italy’s controversial elimination from the 2002 FIFA World Cup, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on heroin-smuggling charges.
He made a successful career for himself as a soccer commentator on television and radio channels in Ecuador after his officiating days came to an end. But a change in his personal circumstances became the motivating force that propelled the 41-year-old to take a gamble on smuggling drugs past US Customs inspectors. "He was in debt. Personal debt. He was just in over his head, and he made a very foolish choice. And now he's going to pay for it," his defense attorney, Michael Padden, said after the hearing in Brooklyn federal court.
Moreno ran into trouble at John F. Kennedy International Airport after arriving on a commercial flight from his native Ecuador. During a routine inspection, he “became visibly nervous” and a customs agent felt “hard objects on the defendant’s stomach, back and both of his legs,” according to a criminal complaint. A strip search revealed that the lumps were 10 clear plastic bags containing more than 10 pounds of heroin, the complaint said.
Before hearing the sentence in federal court in Brooklyn, Byron Moreno apologized to his family and asked for forgiveness. “From the bottom of my heart, I am very sorry,” Moreno said, choking up and wiping away tears. Moreno, 41, had faced a minimum of nearly 3 1/2 years under advisory sentencing guidelines, but his lawyer argued that he deserved a break in part because he had been a model inmate since his arrest in September 2010 — even starting a soccer program at a federal jail in Brooklyn. Byron Moreno is to be deported back to Ecuador after serving his sentence.
Moreno became a hated figure in Italy after making contentious calls in the second-round match of the 2002 World Cup, when the Azzurri lost 2-1 in extra time. He sent off Francesco Totti, giving the Italian a second yellow card for an alleged dive in the penalty area 13 minutes into extra time. A 111th-minute goal by Italy’s Damiano Tommasi that would have advanced the team was disallowed, apparently for offside. South Korea scored the winner in the 117th minute.
Source: The Associated Press