Ex-World Cup ref Moreno guilty in NY drug case

BY foxsports • January 14, 2011

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 time.

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 it.

He resigned a short time later.