Panama City
News Herald
January 15, 1997

Marijuana Importer

MIAMI -- It is said the arm of the law is long, but so is its memory, as Michael Cullison found out 18 years after he fled the United States on a charge of helping import 70 tons of marijuana.

Cullison, 46, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to import marijuana when he was a member of the so-called Zion Coptic Church.  He and 18 others with the church were indicted on marijuana charges in 1979, but Cullison fled to Jamaica.

Cullison's downfall came in Havana, Ill., in 1995 when he was caught doing 60 mph in a 50 mph zone.  A routine check showed he was wanted by U.S. marshals.

In a 1979 trial, members of the Zion Coptic Church showed up in crimson robes and green-and-gold uniforms.  The trial resulted in several convictions, including that of Thomas Francis Reilly, the head of the sect in Miami.

The members of the church and their families lived in a mansion on one of the islands between Miami and Miami Beach.  During the trial, the church members said they smoked marijuana as a form of religious communion.  The local church sect no longer exists.