The referee involved in Italy’s controversial elimination from
the 2002 World Cup pleaded guilty Thursday to heroin smuggling
charges, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Byron Moreno, who is being held without bail, pleaded guilty to
one count of heroin smuggling, office spokesman Robert Nardoza
said. He faces up to 5 1/4 years in prison under federal sentencing
guidelines. No sentencing date was set.
Moreno was arrested in September at John F. Kennedy
International Airport after arriving on a commercial flight from
his native Ecuador with bags of heroin attached to his body,
During a routine inspection, Moreno ”became visibly nervous,”
according to a complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn.
A customs agent felt ”hard objects on the defendant’s stomach,
back and both of his legs,” the complaint said. A strip search
revealed that the lumps were 10 clear plastic bags containing more
than 10 pounds of heroin, it said.
Moreno became a hate figure in Italy after several contentious
decisions in the second-round match of the 2002 World Cup, when the
Azzurri lost 2-1 after 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
A 111th-minute goal by Italy’s Damiano Tommasi that would have
advanced the team was disallowed, apparently for offside, and South
Korea was awarded a penalty – saved by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon
– for a foul by Christian Panucci against Seol Ki-Hyeon.
Ahn Jung-Hwan then scored the winner for South Korea in the
In 2003, Ecuador football officials suspended Moreno for 20
games after a match there drew complaints about him from both
teams. He added 11 minutes of stoppage time to a game between
domestic clubs Barcelona and Liga de Quito without recording