One winter night in 2004, drug dealer Eugene Cobbs crashed his small plane at the airport in Wheeling, W.Va., and walked away, leaving behind 525 pounds of cocaine worth $24 million.
Four years later, federal authorities finally tracked him down in Mexico and brought him back to the U.S., where he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for dealing drugs.
Now they'll have to hunt him down again, because on Wednesday he escaped.
It wasn't much of an escape -- he apparently just walked away from the federal prison camp in Morgantown, where he'd been for the past few months.
The minimum-security camp is a collection of dorms with a 3-foot fence around it. There's not much to stop someone from fleeing, but the last time someone walked away was 2006.
Cobbs was missing during a 4 p.m. headcount at the facility on Wednesday, although the U.S. Marshals Service said it was not notified that he was gone until 11 p.m.
Marilyn Veltri of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons disputed that, saying the facility followed its protocol, which is to conduct an internal search and then send a fax to the marshals about any escape. She said that fax was sent about 6:45 p.m. She said the facility also called the marshals later that night, but by then Cobbs was likely long gone.
He was last seen at the prison facility at noon Wednesday. Alex Neville, supervisor for the marshals in Clarksburg, W.Va., said authorities believe Cobbs had help in escaping.
"We believe he is no longer in the area," he said.
Cobbs had been transferred to the prison camp in February from a federal penitentiary in New Jersey. He was scheduled to be released in 2019.
Federal inmates are often transferred to lower-security facilities for good behavior. Ms. Veltri said that's what happened with Cobbs, although she said she couldn't get into specifics about his conduct or how the decision was made.
Cobbs crashed his Piper Aerostar on Dec. 18, 2004, at Wheeling-Ohio County airport, leaving behind the 525 pounds of cocaine.
Cobbs, who is originally from Philadelphia and uses as many as five aliases, also triggered a state grand jury investigation of the Pennsylvania driver's license system because he was using a fake state ID. That case resulted in charges against more than 45 people accused of using stolen or fake identities to get driver's licenses.
In Cobbs' case, the state grand jury said he used a counterfeit Arkansas birth certificate and Social Security card, along with a fraudulent letter from the Social Security Administration, to acquire a license in the name of Marquis Munroe, who turned out to be a 13-year-old in Philadelphia.
Federal prosecutors said Cobbs bought his plane for nearly $300,000 in 2004 and began hauling cocaine from Compton, Calif., to Philadelphia, stopping at small airports to refuel. The FAA had cited him several times for reckless flying and other violations.
On Dec. 18 of that year, he flew to Utah and then Missouri before crashing in Wheeling. He hitchhiked to a hotel, registering under a fake name, and then made calls to arrange for someone to get him. Accomplices from Philadelphia picked him up and drove him there.
It's not clear when he fled to Mexico. But after years of chasing leads, authorities tracked him to Valle Real, a gated community outside Guadalajara, where he was living with his Mexican wife and child.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510. First Published April 11, 2013 12:30 AM