The referee involved in Italy’s controversial elimination from football’s 2002 World Cup was caught at Kennedy Airport with bags of heroin attached to his body, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Byron Moreno late Monday after he arrived in New York on a commercial flight from his native Ecuador.
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.
A judge jailed Moreno without bail on a drug smuggling charge. There was no immediate response to a message left Tuesday with his attorney.
Moreno enraged Italian fans in 2002 when he ejected Francesco Totti, giving the Italian a second yellow card for an alleged dive in the penalty area 13 minutes into overtime of a 2-1 loss to South Korea in the World Cup’s second round.
A 111th-minute goal by Italy’s Damiano Tommasi that would have advanced Italy was disallowed, apparently for offside, and South Korea was awarded a penalty kick – that goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saved – for a foul by Christian Panucci against Seol Ki-hyeon.
"I think Moreno already had the (heroin) in 2002, but not in his underwear, in his body," Buffon said. "Joking aside, when sports people get involved in drug cases it means they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.
"It also means they’ve lost the real meaning of the sport, which is also to save kids from the street and various dangers, like drugs," Buffon said.
In 2003, Ecuadorean soccer officials suspended Moreno for 20 games after a domestic match 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 it.
He resigned a short time later.
Moreno also refereed the United States’ opening 3-2 upset of Portugal at the 2002 World Cup.