May 7, 1924
|Died||December 12, 2016 (aged 92)|
Drug courier for the Sinaloa Cartel
|Known for||Oldest drug mule in the world|
|Criminal charge||Drug trafficking|
Leonard Sharp (May 7, 1924 – December 12, 2016), also known as El Tata, was an American World War II veteran, world-renowned horticulturist, and drug courier for a branch of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel.
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Jeff Moore arrested Sharp in 2011 and was interviewed by The New York Times writer Sam Dolnick regarding the investigation into the world’s oldest drug mule.
Military service and honors
Sharp claimed to have been an owner of a small airline company that eventually went bankrupt. Sharp later became a horticulturist and florist known for hybridizing popular new breeds of flowers, specifically the daylily. Sharp became world-renowned for his hybridizing of popular new breeds of his flowers.
Sharp gained popularity for producing relatively small flowers with vibrant colors. His most popular creation was the Ojo Poco, a 2 1⁄2-inch (64 mm) apricot-colored flower with a red bull’s-eye at the center that he introduced in 1994. "Anyone who has over 100 day lilies in their garden would recognize it by sight," Kevin P. Walek, a former president of the American Hemerocallis Society said. There are 75,378 different day lilies officially registered with the American Hemerocallis Society. The daylily "Hemerocallis 'Siloam Leo Sharp'" is named after him.
Day-lily enthusiasts visited Sharp’s flower farm near Michigan City, Indiana where he lived for decades. Sharp’s neighbors in Michigan City recalled buses filled with customers outside his front gate waiting to buy his signature flowers, almost all named after his business, Brookwood Gardens.
Sharp traveled across the country for day-lily speaking engagements and conventions, and boasted at the time of his arrest that he had once been invited to the White House where he planted flowers in the Rose Garden for President George H. W. Bush.
Sharp became despondent from financial problems with his flower business and was subsequently approached by Mexican laborers at his Michigan farm who solicited him into transporting narcotics for the Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico. Sharp’s success in eluding the detection of law enforcement for over 10 years while transporting thousands of pounds of cocaine catapulted him into urban legend among drug traffickers who knew of his exploits.
Sharp used a Lincoln pickup truck to transport between 100-300 kilograms of cocaine at a time from the southern U.S. border to Detroit, Michigan. The cartel also utilized Sharp to transport drug proceeds in excess of two million dollars per return trip from Michigan to Arizona in the same pickup truck.
In October 2011, while in possession of 200 pounds of cocaine, then 87-year-old Sharp was arrested by the Michigan state police during a coordinated arrest operation led by the DEA. His arrest was captured on the dashboard camera of the Michigan State Police cruiser and published in the New York Times.
The criminal investigation was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Chris Graveline in the Eastern District of Michigan, culminating with indictments of 25 members of the organization, including Sharp.
Sharp was allowed to speak at his sentencing hearing before Judge Edmunds. He addressed the judge, "I’m really heartbroken I did what I did, but it’s done." In an effort to avoid jail Sharp made one final, strange plea. If he could avoid jail, he proposed paying the $500,000 penalty he owed the government by growing Hawaiian papayas. "It’s so sweet and delicious," he told the court. The court declined the offer and sentenced Sharp to three years in prison. His defense stated that Sharp had dementia, and would do poorly in prison. Sharp was released in 2015 due to declining health after only serving a year in prison.
Sharp died of natural causes in December 2016 at the age of 92.
In popular culture
- Dolnick, Sam (June 15, 2014). "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule". The New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
- "This 90-Year-Old Florist Fueled The Biggest Cocaine Smuggling Operation In Detroit's History". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "Ninety-Year-Old Leo Sharp Was El Chapo's Top Drug Mule - The Fix". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- Pearl, Mike. "An 89-Year-Old Drug Mule Is Threatening to Kill Himself Rather Than Face Jail Time". VICE. Vice. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
- "WWII vet Leo Sharp facing sentencing on 90th birthday for 1,000-pounds cocaine haul". UPI.com. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
- "Meet America's oldest drugs mule aged 90 who is a WWII veteran". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "Leo Sharp, Cocaine Courier And War Hero, Sentenced On 90th Birthday". Huffington Post.com. Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
- "AHS Daylily Cultivar Detailed Information". www.daylilies.org. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "Daylilies: The American Hemerocallis Society Home Page". www.oldsite.daylilies.org. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "The 'Grandfather' Gets Busted" (video). The New York Times. June 10, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
- "Leo Sharp, Drug Courier, Back In Court For Sentence On 90th Birthday". Retrieved June 23, 2014.
- "Michigan Drug "Mule" Leo Sharp Gets Three Years on 90th Birthday". NBC News.com. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
- Leo Sharp epitaph: He was the world's oldest drug mule abc7chicago.com
- Yamato, Jen (November 4, 2014). "Ruben Fleischer To Direct Movie About 90-Year-Old Drug Mule". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
- Sneider, Jeff (February 24, 2015). "'The Judge' Writer Nick Schenk to Adapt Elderly Drug Mule Tale for 'Zombieland' Director (Exclusive)". TheWrap. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
- Sneider, Jeff (January 30, 2018). "Clint Eastwood Circling 90-Year-Old Drug Courier Tale "The Mule" at Warner Bros., Imperative (Exclusive)". The Tracking Board. Retrieved June 4, 2018.