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DETROIT — An 89-year-old Indiana man who grows lilies pleaded guilty Tuesday in Detroit to serving as a drug mule to distribute more than 1,400 pounds of cocaine.
Leo Sharp of Michigan City, Ind., is one of the oldest criminal defendants in Detroit’s federal court. He was contrite and very talkative during his appearance, saying he had never before committed a crime and that he worked for drug dealers because he needed money.
“In six months I’ll be 90,” Sharp said.
Sharp was 87 in 2011 when a Michigan state trooper pulled his pickup truck over on Interstate 94, west of Detroit. Anxious and upset about what the trooper would find, he declared, “Just kill me and let me leave this planet.”
In court, Sharp wore a dark suit that had a lapel pin signifying his service in World War II. He playfully winked at drug agents in the second row who investigated the case. His hearing aids weren’t strong enough, so U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds invited Sharp to stand just a few feet away from her.
“You knew it was cocaine, right?” Judge Edmunds asked.
“I did,” Sharp replied. “Oh, yes.”
The delivery of more than 200 pounds wasn’t Sharp’s first interstate haul. He admitted he was responsible for transporting more than 1,400 pounds of drugs that originated in Arizona. In a court filing, the government said it has evidence that Sharp was transporting marijuana and cocaine from the West Coast back in 2000.
Nonetheless, prosecutors are showing mercy by recommending a five-year prison sentence because of Sharp’s age and his war service.
It’s a significant break: The sentencing guidelines, which aren’t mandatory, call for a minimum of 14 years.
Defense attorney Darryl Goldberg said he will ask for less than five years when Sharp returns to court on Feb. 11. He said his client is “profoundly remorseful.”
“He was roped into something sinister with the promise of financial gain,” Mr. Goldberg said. “But one thing led to another and he was threatened at gunpoint to move cocaine across the country.”
The court hearing had some unusual moments. Mr. Goldberg repeatedly told Sharp that he wasn’t required to say much beyond what the judge asked him. While explaining he had a clean record, Sharp said his only brush with the law was an incident in Mexico where he was “taking motion pictures of a prostitute.”
“Don’t feel you have to confess to me,” Judge Edmunds said later.
Sharp owes $500,000 as part of the plea deal and has agreed to give up his lily nursery in Apopka, Fla. He’ll be allowed to keep his Indiana home.