Terry Moore finally got his man.
“As a deputy U.S. marshal, this is what you live for,” he said Wednesday.
His quarry for more than a year, fugitive Pennsylvania cocaine dealer Eugene Cobbs, is in custody after Mexican authorities tracked him down Monday on information Deputy Moore supplied as a supervisor for the U.S. Marshals Service in Northern West Virginia.
Cobbs, a 43-year-old Philadelphia native, has twice been the subject of manhunts ever since he crashed his drug plane a decade ago in Wheeling, W.Va., and fled, leaving behind 525 pounds of cocaine worth $24 million, the largest narcotics haul in West Virginia history.
He fled to Mexico the first time and hid there for four years before the marshals caught him and prosecutors put him behind bars.
After walking away from a low-security federal prison camp last year in Morgantown, W.Va., he fled to Mexico again.
The marshals and Mexican authorities found him in the central Mexican town of Tepatitlan, where he was living with a girlfriend.
Cobbs is in federal custody in California pending extradition to West Virginia.
A girlfriend, Jamie Angel Clayton, is also under indictment on charges of helping him escape, although details of what she did haven’t been made public.
Deputy Moore said he couldn’t discuss her role because the case is pending, nor could he talk about the specifics of the manhunt.
He said Cobbs, whose use of fake Pennsylvania driver’s licenses sparked a state investigation and a rebuke of PennDOT for lousy security, is the kind of fugitive that marshals enjoy chasing: smart, resourceful, sophisticated.
After Cobbs escaped last year, he took a bus to Philadelphia and then “went off the radar,” Deputy Moore said.
Marshals interviewed his family, his associates and his former cell mates in seven states, “but the whole time we knew in the back of our minds that he had ties to Mexico,” where he has another girlfriend and possibly a child and where he had been captured in 2008, Deputy Moore said.
How he got into Mexico a second time is unclear.
He moved around in Mexico, staying in multiple locations and using aliases, as he did the first time. Working with Mexican authorities, Deputy Moore discovered Cobbs was living at another girlfriend’s house in Tepatitlan, a city of 100,000, and Mexican law officers set up surveillance.
They arrested on Monday without a fight. He was identified and deported, and U.S. Marshals detained him on his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.
Cobbs has been in the sights of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration since the 1990s in Philadelphia, Baltimore and elsewhere.
It was poor flying skills that eventually did him in.
The Federal Aviation Administration cited him several times for safety violations in the early 2000s, including once in 2003 at the Allegheny County Airport. DEA suspected he stopped there often to refuel on cross-country drug trips from California to Philadelphia.
But on Dec. 18, 2004, he flew from Compton, Calif., to Blanding, Utah, and then to Missouri on his way to Philadelphia, but he had a problem over West Virginia and tried to land at Wheeling-Ohio County Airport in the dark. The plane overshot the runway and skidded down a hillside. Airport personnel found the smashed plane but no pilot.
Federal prosecutors said he had hitchhiked to a hotel, registered under a fake name using a bogus Pennsylvania driver’s license in the name of a 13-year-old boy and eventually made his way to Philadelphia. He then disappeared for four years until marshals tracked him to Valle Real, a gated community outside Guadalajara, Mexico.
While he was being prosecuted in West Virginia for coke dealing, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office launched an investigation into how he obtained the fake license. A grand jury probe later generated charges against more than 45 people, mostly felons accused of using stolen or fake identities to get driver’s licenses.
Agents found that Cobbs used a counterfeit Arkansas birth certificate and Social Security card, in addition to a fake letter from the Social Security Administration, to acquire a license in the name of Marquis Munroe, a Philadelphia 13-year-old.
As part of its report, the grand jury excoriated PennDOT for its “historic security laxity” in issuing licenses to criminals.
In his federal drug case, meanwhile, Cobbs pleaded guilty in 2009 and received 12-1/2 years in prison. In February 2013, he was transferred from a penitentiary in New Jersey to a minimum-security prison camp in Morgantown because of his good behavior.
On April 10, 2013, Cobbs walked away.
Marshals learned in September that he had crossed into Mexico again.
When he is extradited to West Virginia, he will have to serve the remainder of his prison term, and he also faces an escape charge that will surely add time to his original 151-month sentence.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.