DETROIT (WWJ) - An inauspicious birthday celebration for a 90-year-old Indiana man as he awaited sentencing in a Detroit courtroom as a trafficker of cocaine.
Leo Sharp learned that he would spend three years in federal prison for his role in a major drug operation in which prosecutors say Sharp transported more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine to across the country before being caught in Michigan.
Sharp was running bricks of cocaine from Tucson, Arizona, to Detroit when he was pulled over near Chelsea, 60 miles west of Detroit, after making a bad lane change in 2011.
Outside the courthouse Sharp cried that he was "heartbroken" and didn't feel that his age had anything to do with the length of his prison sentence.
When a state trooper approached, Sharp was upset and declared, "Just kill me and let me leave this planet."
Sharp, a WWII veteran who has no criminal record, later told police he was forced by a Mexican drug cartel to transport the cocaine or else his family would have been killed.
Prosecutors were recommending a five-year prison sentence — urging the judge to look beyond Sharp's age and health issues and lock him up for delivering more than a ton of cocaine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline, noted that there's video of Sharp – known as "grandpa" and "old man" – joking and laughing with others charged in the drug conspiracy.
Graveline said Sharp received at least $1.25 million from his handlers for hauling more than 2,750 pounds of cocaine to Michigan from the Southwest in 2010 and 2011. He's one of 19 people under indictment in a case connected to Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel.
Graveline said the cartel "literally flooded the streets of southeast Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana, with kilograms of cocaine."
Sharp, of Michigan City, Indiana, had hoped to stay out of prison. Defense attorney Darryl Goldberg said Sharp has dementia and other issues, and would be a burden for the prison system.
"Of course I respectfully disagree with the judge's sentence but she is a very experienced jurist and I hope that Leo can survive the sentence," said Goldberg.
"I really hope they can take care of his unique needs (in prison), a ninety year old man with dementia and a laundry list of other conditions - everyone else seems to think that the bureau of prisons is up to the task and I sure hope they are."
During sentencing Judge Nancy Edmunds said Sharp was in the middle of a huge operation and transported cocaine six different times and was paid more than a million dollars.
Sharp has said that he will take his life in prison.
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