In 1984, William Potts, Jr. diverted a Piedmont Airlines passenger aircraft to Havana and demanded $5 million.
According to court documents, Potts threatened to blow up the airplane and shoot passengers if the plane landed in Miami. The pilot complied and diverted the aircraft to Havana, Cuba. Potts remained in Cuba until his return to Miami on November 6, 2013.
Potts, whose a/k/a’s include William Freeman and Lieutenant Spartacus, was a black militant member of the Black Panthers who sought acceptance as a revolutionary in need of guerilla training. Instead, Cuban authorities arrested him after boarding the hijacked plane. He served 13 years in a Cuban prison – described by Potts as a “hell hole” – and then raised a family in Cuba for another 16 years.
His identity was revealed when the FBI found an electric bill in the plane that had fallen out of Potts’ pocket. The utility account was in the name Kay Brown of Paterson, N.J. Brown told authorities that Potts was her nephew and that she had given him $120 to pay her electric bill but hadn’t seen him since.
The Piedmont ticket cost $119.
Potts decided to voluntarily return to the US and plead guilty to the kidnapping charges against him. In 2014, U.S. District Judge Michael Moore sentenced Potts to 20 years in prison for hijacking the aircraft.
In 2009, Potts called himself the “homesick hijacker” in an Associated Press article about his desire to one day return to the U.S.
“I went through a growth process and transformation and I believe I came out better for it,” Potts said in court.
In another case, an American citizen, Adem Arici, faced charges for violating the U.S- Cuba Embargo for allegedly attempting to invest in real estate in Cuba. Marc E.Verzani, his lawyer and co-defendant, plead guilty in October 2013 to making a false statement to US Customs for failing to include “Cuba” in the list of countries visited on the customs declaration form he submitted upon returning to the US. Verzani was sentenced to two years’ probation. In July 2015, a New York State appellate court upheld that Verzani should be prohibited from practicing law in connection to his guilty plea.