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Ex-Vatican Diplomat Accused in Heroin Ring

April 2, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ After arrests for art smuggling and ticket scalping, the Rev. Lorenzo Zorza claimed he was only trying to help his friends. These days the ex-Vatican diplomat has new friends, federal officials say - and they operate an international drug ring.

Zorza, 46, was identified Thursday as one of 39 people in the New York area involved in swapping cocaine for heroin with the Sicilian Mafia in what U.S. authorities described as the biggest international drug bust ever. For the Italian-born fugitive priest, it was just another twist in what was apparently a strange double life.

Known to his friends as Father Lorenzo, Zorza handled an assortment of church duties since arriving here in 1969: at the Consolata Fathers home for runaway girls, as fourth ranking Vatican diplomat to the United Nations, as assistant pastor at a Manhattan church.

Authorities provided a different resume: art smuggler, ticket scalper (although charges were eventually dropped), heroin smuggler.

″Among other criminal activities, Zorza carries money derived from illegal sources back and forth between the U.S. and Italy,″ the heroin complaint against the priest charged. The priest also is heard in several wiretapped conversations allegedly talking about the ring.

Zorza remained at large after failing to get off a flight from Italy at Kennedy International Airport on Thursday, as authorities expected.

His first encounter with federal authorities came in 1982, when Zorza was arrested for using his clerical garb and diplomatic status to smuggle two 16th- century oil paintings worth more than $100,000 from Italy into the United States for an $8,000 fee.

Zorza, who was at the United Nations at the time, was placed on probation for three years after pleading guilty to charges in the case.

″I did it sincerely to help somebody,″ Zorza told the judge, asserting he did not know the paintings were stolen. ″I’m terribly sorry.″

And after charges of scalping $40,000 worth of tickets to Broadway’s ″Les Miserables″ were dropped in August 1987, Zorza said he was ″just trying to help out two friends.″

Zorza was ordained in 1966, moved to the United States three years later and became an American citizen in 1976.

Authorities said Zorza remained a member of the Consolata Fathers of Somerset, N.J., but a priest there said the order ended its association with him more than a decade ago by mutual agreement.

″We just know what we heard last night,″ said the priest, who declined to give his name. ″We don’t know what he’s doing, or where he’s doing it.″

The Archdiocese of New York also doesn’t know where Zorza is, a spokesman said Friday. Zorza was assistant pastor at St. Agnes church in 1983, but officials at the church hung up the phone when called for comment.

Zorza is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine and marijuana. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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