The alleged mastermind of a $3 million-a-month cocaine ring admitted in a New Haven federal court Monday that he fled Connecticut 12 years ago to avoid state prosecutors.

Alberto Howe of Waterford said he skipped out on a bail hearing in September 1989 after he heard that the state planned to seek two life sentences against him on drug charges.

“I am a human being,” he told U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton. “I did panic after waiting for close to a year to go to trial, and at the last moment, I did take flight.”

Howe, 59, pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful flight.

Under a plea bargain, he could be sent to prison for one to one and a half years. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 28.

Howe, of Waterford, had been a welder for General Dynamics and owned several bars in the New London area.

He was arrested in August 1988 during a citywide drug sweep. Howe went to the local train station and met two women, one of whom was carrying more than six pounds of cocaine in a briefcase, police said.

Howe was charged in state court with possession of cocaine with intent to sell. He was released from state prison on $750,000 bond, secured in part by property owned by a relative, said Ronald Apter, a supervisory assistant U.S. attorney.

When that relative was arrested on federal drug charges, the state began foreclosure proceedings against the property and sought to reconsider Howe’s bond because they feared he would flee, Apter said.

On the morning of Sept. 22, 1989, Howe appeared in New London Superior Court for the bail hearing. The case was continued to later in the day, but Howe failed to return to court.

Authorities said he took $90,000 in cash that was hidden in the ceilings of one of his buildings and fled to his native Panama. Federal marshals arrested him in April in Tempe, Ariz.

The state case is still pending.

–Associated Press