OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
Betsy C. Jividen
Acting UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
1125 Chapline Street, Federal Building, Suite 3000 ● Wheeling, WV 26003
(304) 234-0100 ● Contact: Fawn E. Thomas, Public Affairs Specialist
October 26, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pilot of Plane Carrying 500 Pounds of Cocaine
Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy
WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA — A thirty-eight year old former Los Angeles, California, resident entered a plea of guilty today (October 26, 2009) in United States District Court in Wheeling before Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr.
Acting United States Attorney Betsy C. Jividen announced that EUGENE NICHOLAS COBBS, also known as ERIC WIGGINS, also known as MARQUIS T. MUNROE, entered a plea of guilty to one count of an Indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine from approximately March 2004 to April 5, 2005, in Brooke County, in the Northern District of West Virginia.
According to Acting USA Jividen, testimony at the plea hearing indicated that in May 2004 COBBS purchased an Aerostar airplane for $290,000 in cash from an individual in Alabama, in the name of Pacific Designers, Inc., of Beverly Hills, California, a company owned by his girlfriend. The investigation has revealed that COBBS used the plane to fly multiple kilograms of cocaine from the Compton Airport near Los Angeles, California to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area for distribution, beginning in the early Summer of 2004. In making these cross country trips, COBBS would stop in small or rural airports to refuel and rest. On December 18, 2004, COBBS departed Compton Airport headed for Philadelphia, flying first to Blanding, Utah, then to Cameron Memorial Airport in Cameron, Missouri, for refueling. Late on December 18, or early in the morning of December 19, 2004, COBBS, as the pilot and sole occupant of the plane, crashed the Aerostar while attempting to land at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport. COBBS fled the scene and obtained a ride to the Holiday Inn Express Hotel near Weirton, West Virginia, paying cash to the driver. At the hotel, COBBS registered under a stolen identity name of Marquis Munroe and made phone calls to individuals in both California and Philadelphia trying to arrange for someone to come and get him. He was picked up by individuals from Philadelphia and driven there, before eventually fleeing to Mexico, where authorities tracked him down and arrested him on the federal Indictment in December 2008.
Testimony also revealed that a search of the twin engine airplane at the crash site uncovered numerous packages of cocaine wrapped in various forms, including duct tape, saran wrap, vacuum sealed bags, and even as Christmas presents. From the fuselage section of the plane, agents removed eight luggage style bags and two brief cases. An additional bag was found just outside the plane. Those bags contained 149 brick-size packages of cocaine. A subsequent search of the cone area of the plane uncovered four duffle bags containing 90 additional brick size-blocks of cocaine. A forensic analysis conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration Mid-Atlantic Forensic Lab determined that these packages contained 239 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, or approximately 525 pounds, which has a street value of approximately $24 million.
As satisfaction of the forfeiture allegation in the Indictment, COBBS agreed to forfeit $18,000 seized from an account which he maintained under the fictitious company name of Builders Plus Management, Inc. in Northridge, California. COBBS also agreed to forfeit the sum of $25,000 plus any other assets located in the future by the United States.
COBBS, who is in custody, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment and a fine of $4,000,000.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney John C. Parr. The Drug Enforcement Administration began surveillance of COBBS in the Fall of 2004 in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In addition to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshal’s Service, the Ohio Valley Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department, the West Virginia State Police, and the Hancock/Brooke/Weirton Drug & Violent Crime Task Force. The Ohio Valley Drug & Violent Crime Task Force consists of officers from the Wheeling Police Department, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Hancock/Brooke/Weirton Drug & Violent Crime Task Force consists of officers from the Weirton Police Department, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, the Hancock County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
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