Convicted Smuggler on the Run

MORGANTOWN – A convicted drug dealer who went on the run after crashing a plane filled with cocaine at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport in 2004 is on the loose again after escaping from a minimum security federal prison camp Wednesday.

Eugene Nicholas Cobbs, 42, was present and accounted for during a noon headcount Wednesday at the Federal Correctional Institution in Morgantown, but was discovered to be missing at 4 p.m., said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Alex Neville. The Marshals Service was not notified of Cobbs’ escape until seven hours later.

Neville said Cobbs’ escape was most likely “effortless” – that all he had to do was avoid being seen by guards. The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently transferred Cobbs to the West Virginia facility from a federal prison in New Jersey.

Neville would not comment on why a man who flew across the country to distribute drugs and successfully evaded law enforcement for four years was being held in a minimum security work camp, where only a chain link fence impeded his escape.

Marshals are also investigating who, if anyone, assisted Cobbs in fleeing from the area after he escaped the facility.

Cobbs crashed an Aerostar airplane containing 525 pounds of cocaine worth $24 million at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport in December 2004. He fled the scene and paid a driver to take him to a hotel near Weirton. The search for Cobbs ended four years later, when marshals arrested him in Houston, Texas, after Mexican authorities deported him on immigration violations.

A judge in U.S. District Court in Wheeling sentenced Cobbs to more than 12 years in prison for cocaine distribution in 2010.