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More than 20 years a fugitive, a drug dealer turns himself in

Luis Munoz who had been lam for more than two decades after being convicted federal court drug charges turned himself

Luis Munoz who had been on the lam for more than two decades after being convicted in federal court on drug charges, turned himself in federal custody and will be sentenced in federal court in Chicago on Wednesday, October 3, 2012. Provided photo

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Updated: November 4, 2012 6:17AM

Three deputy U.S. marshals were waiting on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande on May 21, when the aging man in Air Force fatigues walked across the Bridge of the Americas into El Paso, Texas, and gave himself up.

Luis Munoz, 57, had stammered a tender goodbye to his son, Louie, just moments earlier on the Mexican side of the border.

It was a gesture Louie Munoz said his father hadn’t made when he walked out on his family in Chicago 22 years ago — the day he went on the lam to dodge a federal prison sentence.

Now, Munoz was finally doing the right thing.

After more than two decades in Chihuahua, Mexico, there was little chance the feds would ever have caught up with the convicted drug dealer.

But freedom from U.S. law enforcement couldn’t protect Munoz from his own conscience and a broken, alcohol-fueled life on the run, so he arranged to turn himself in, his family and attorneys say.

“It’s sad to say, but at this point, he’s probably better off in an American prison than free in Mexico — at least here we can help him,” his son said this week.

On Wednesday, Munoz could be sentenced to more than 10 years behind bars when he appears before Judge Charles P. Kocoras in federal court in Chicago. He is being held in custody and could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors want Munoz — convicted in 1990 of four counts of distributing cocaine — locked up for at least a decade. They say his decision to flee the U.S. should be held against him, adding that Munoz lied in court and has never taken responsibility for his crimes.

But defense attorney Candace Jackson wrote in a court filing that Munoz’s decision to give himself up shows otherwise. He is “not the man he was on the eve of his original sentencing . . . he now stands before this court, having lived for 22 years with emotions ranging from bewilderment to fear and regret,” she wrote, urging a shorter sentence.

Munoz, who claimed at his trial that financial difficulties and entrapment led him into the drug trade, was busted in 1989 for selling cocaine at least two times.

His sister Lucy Crowson this week described that decision as “a stupid mistake that destroyed his family.” Munoz’s wife, Gloria, divorced him after he fled their Irving Park neighborhood home, leaving her to raise three young children alone, she said.

The family had come to Chicago after Munoz left the U.S. Air Force to start a construction business in the early 1980s, but they returned to El Paso, Texas, soon after he skipped town, his son said. Though Louie Munoz travelled to Ciudad Juarez to urge his father turn himself in this summer and visited his father several times in Mexico over the years, Luis Munoz hasn’t met many of his nine grandchildren and is “terrified, scared and nervous” about his fate, he said.

Munoz’s own father died several years ago in Mexico, and Munoz has spent the last two years working odd jobs, living in shelters and at a rehab center, being treated for alcoholism and other problems, his son said.

It was at one of the shelters that another resident gave him the number for the deputy U.S. marshal he eventually turned himself in to, according to court papers.

“He’d hit rock bottom,” Louie Munoz said. “He’d lost everything, his family, his business, his money and he’d almost lost his sanity — it was time to put it to rest.”

Louie Munoz added that his father decided to wear his military uniform to his arrest because he was “proud of his service, and this was the way to go.”

The deputies on the bridge “didn’t cuff him,” he said.

“He deserves some credit for turning himself in,” he added. “He just wants to serve his time and finally get on with his life.”

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