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Drug fugitive arrested in Alaska

Published Oct. 14, 2005

Drug defendant Thomas Geers, one of Florida's eight most wanted fugitives, was apprehended by the FBI in Alaska on Thursday after more than six years on the run. Geers escaped from the Madison County Jail in North Florida in May 1985 with Pinellas County drug smuggler Joseph F. Valverde.

Geers, 45, was picked up in a telephone booth in Juneau, Alaska, according to agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

The two men were arrested in December 1984 with a planeload of marijuana in North Florida. Geers had just helped load a van with marijuana and was trying to drive away, authorities said.

Valverde was posing as an evangelical minister in Madison County at the time of his arrest. He told local officials he wanted to develop a church on land where he landed the airplane.

Investigators found a Bible on the dashboard of the plane, which had been loaded with more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana.

Valverde was arrested again in March 1986 as he flew another planeload of marijuana into Little Rock, Ark. He since has been convicted of drug smuggling and attempting to bribe an Arkansas jailer with an offer of $250,000.

After trials in federal court in Arkansas, Valverde was sentenced to 57 years in prison. He later was sentenced to an additional 18 years in state prison on the Florida drug smuggling and escape charges, but won't begin serving that sentence until he completes his federal sentence.

Valverde, former owner of a North Pinellas computer business and his wife, Lee Knight Moffett, were friends of Pasco County Sheriff Jim Gillum and helped him run for office in 1984.

Gillum spent early 1985 explaining a trip he made to Tampa International Airport to help Mrs. Moffett and her daughter after they were stopped by drug investigators.

Gillum said he went to the airport to determine what was happening and did not intend to interfere in another agency's investigation.

Moffett donated to Gillum's campaign and later was identified by Gillum's wife in the midst of a divorce as having loaned Gillum $28,000. Gillum denies making the loan or taking anything from Valverde.

Geers will face trial in Madison County in Florida after extradition from Alaska.

FDLE spokesman John Joyce said Geers initially gave the FBI a phony name, David Leon Meredith, but later admitted he was Geers and did not resist arrest.