Ex-World Cup ref Moreno guilty in NY drug case

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,

prosecutors said.

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

117th minute.

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


He resigned a short time later.