MIAMI – An American who hijacked an airliner to Cuba nearly 30 years ago as a self-described revolutionary flew back home Wednesday to face U.S. justice.
FBI agents took William Potts, 56, into custody shortly after his charter flight from Havana landed at Miami International Airport, said FBI spokesman Mike Leverock. Potts faces a 1985 federal indictment charging him with air piracy for hijacking a Piedmont Airlines flight in 1984.
Before leaving Cuba, Potts said he was seeking “closure” and hoped to persuade U.S. prosecutors to give him credit for the 13-plus years he spent in Cuban prison for the hijacking. The U.S. charge carries a sentence of between 20 years and life in prison, federal prosecutors said.
“My position is I am a free man. I have served my time,” Potts said. “But they seem to have another concept. They are going to take control of me. I will be under their authority.”
Potts was taken from the airport to the FBI’s Miami field office and later will be transferred to a downtown detention center. Potts is to make his initial appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon.
U.S. authorities have aggressively prosecuted some returning fugitives, while others saw their sentences reduced significantly for time served elsewhere. Typically, a criminal defendant who pleads guilty and accepts responsibility qualifies for a more lenient sentence.
In the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of American aircraft were hijacked to communist Cuba at the height of the Cold War. But by the time Potts commandeered his plane, they had become less frequent and Cuba had begun prosecuting the hijackers. Potts said he thought Cuba would welcome him and offer him training as a guerrilla. Instead, he was tried and convicted of air piracy.