How an Elderly War Vet Became a Drug Mule
Leo Sharp was a renowned lily farmer before turning to crime
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2014 8:26 AM CDT
Leo Sharp walks toward U.S. District Court before his scheduled sentencing, Wednesday, May 7, 2014, in Detroit.   (AP Photo/Ed White)

(Newser) – When DEA officers pulled over a notorious cocaine courier in 2011, they were in for a little surprise: An elderly man stepped out of the pickup truck, his hair tousled and face unshaven as he cupped an ear to hear. "At age 87, I want to know why I’m being stopped," he said. That man was Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran and renowned lily grower who had become a drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel, writes Sam Dolnick in the New York Times Magazine. So how and why did Sharp do it? His lawyer claimed dementia and said the cartel had threatened Sharp at gunpoint, but a judge wasn't swayed and gave Sharp three years in prison. "It's not a victimless crime," the judge said, reports the Detroit Free Press. "This is a huge drug operation, and Mr. Sharp was right in the middle of it."

Once a hugely admired lily hybridizer, Sharp grew small flowers in brilliant reds, pinks, and yellows; nearly 180 are registered to his name. He even showed up at day-lily conventions in all-black or all-white suits with an entourage that handed out lilies to swooning fans. "He was just a stud," says one gardener. "He just had the air." One theory has it that when the Internet blossomed, he stuck with a paper catalog for his lilies and lost too many customers. His woes intersected with the rise of the Sinaloa Cartel, which was smuggling massive amounts of cocaine from Mexico into Arizona safe houses. Sharp became their driver into Detroit, and prosecutors say he earned about $1.25 million doing it, the Detroit News reports. A colorful presence in the courtroom, he whispered "death sentence" when the judge sent him away last month. "All I can tell you, your honor, is I'm really heartbroken that I did what I did, but it's done," he said. (Click to read about the Sinaloa cartel kingpin's arrest in February.)

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Showing 3 of 25 comments
Jun 16, 2014 10:06 AM CDT
Some people get hooked on drugs after trying it for the first time. Everyone is different and I agree the drug pushers should be thrown to jail not the end user. This is another form of people control by government and despite all doing saying in the end they don't give damn. Those officials scream why when it involves their kids but than they forget. That's why they have this stressless environment for kds so they can do whatever they want. How you going to control person who is accountable and responsible? There is no way, so they trying to turn entire nation into bunch of squelling pigs. What is happening now in D.C. is horrible and even the media doesn't say a word of truth. You have to go and see "home made" movies in private theaters to see the truth.
Zorr 10
Jun 15, 2014 10:56 PM CDT
Corrupt judges and law enforcement officers galore out there in our society. Back in the 60's, a state trooper pulled over my brother for weaving on the highway. He had too much to drink and drive. The officer noticed a bag of marijuana in his cars glove compartment. He told my brother to let him have half of the marijuana, and he would let him go out in the woods and sleep his intoxication off. The idiot cop didn't even try to haul my brother in for being drunk and possession of marijuana....he just wanted the marijuana. Sorry to say, but a few short months later, my brother got killed while driving drunk in his car.
Jun 15, 2014 9:26 PM CDT
The war on drugs started when I was a teenager and I was laughing at it back then and still do. Forget the bragging when you confiscate loads of drugs and money. Here's how you win the war on drugs; Take into custody anyone involved with taking drugs - selling or using. Promise them all charges will be dropped only if the info they give law enforcement is true. When info is confirmed, Kill them, make them disappear and proceed with the next scumbag criminal. Be fair, equal and treat all of these criminals alike whether they are lower echelon street criminals or the elitists with the money. This guy has "0" excuse. He is a scumbag criminal and as usual was sorry only after he was caught.