Flower expert Leo Sharp was a respected 85-year-old decorated World War II hero when he transported his first shipment for the deadly Sinaloa Cartel.
His story is now being told in the new Clint Eastwood film 'The Mule' which chronicles how the octogenarian became one of the warlord's most dependable movers of cocaine.
“I don’t think state troopers and highway patrolmen were suspicious of an elderly man driving cross-country,” Sharp’s lawyer, Darryl Goldberg, told The New York Post.
During 2010, Sharp delivered more than a tonne of coke across the US – enough for around 7.25m people to each snort a line.
However, his lucrative role as a drugs mule came to an abrupt halt when was caught transporting 104 bricks of cocaine in the trunk of his Lincoln pickup.
Sharp was born in 1924 in Michigan and started working part time down the local coal mines with his alcoholic father when he was aged just 11.
According to court documents, Sharp’s dad “squandered his money,” meaning he had to quit high school and work full time in the pits.
He joined the US Army and served as an infantryman during World War II and in acknowledgement of his bravery and heroism received a Bronze Star.
By the 1990s, Sharp had emerged as a master cultivator of lilies, creating floral hybrids at his farm near Michigan City.
It is believed one of Sharp’s employees brought him to the attention of the leaders of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel.
“It makes sense that a farmhand of Mexican descent introduced him (to the cartel),” Goldberg said.
However, in the cocaine trade he was ridiculed for his advanced age – according to court records – and his handlers made fun of his failing memory.
But he was also given the nickname El Tata, Spanish for The Grandfather, and received preferential treatment and proved to be an excellent mule because he was so "unlikely."
It’s estimated Sharp earned more than $1 million for himself, spending a sizeable chunk on a flower farm near Orlando, Florida.
But according to court transcripts, when the old man told cartel bosses he wanted to get out of the drug trade, they responded by putting a gun to his head.
“They threatened (Sharp) and said they would kill his family,” Goldberg told the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Then on the afternoon of Oct. 21, 2011, Sharp was driving Interstate 94 to Detroit in a truck full of drugs when Michigan Trooper Craig Ziecina pulled him over near Ann Arbor.
It later emerged DEA agents had been stealthily monitoring Sharp – who never once "ratted out" his bosses.
Sharp was eventually sentenced to three years at Federal Medical Center, Rochester, a prison in Minnesota.
However, suffering from an undisclosed terminal illness, Sharp served just one year of his sentence and passed away a free man in December 2016.
He is buried at Honolulu’s National Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punch Bowl, alongside veterans of World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
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