published Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

War veteran hopes to avoid prison on 90th birthday

  • photo
    This undated booking file photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Leo Earl Sharp, who was arrested for cocaine possession near Chelsea, Ind.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DETROIT — An Indiana man who hauled cocaine across the country is a decorated World War II veteran who has dementia and shouldn't be sent to prison on his 90th birthday, his attorney said Tuesday.

Leo Sharp, a drug courier referred to as the "old man" by his handlers, returns to Detroit federal court on his birthday, May 7. His attorney filed an 18-page sentencing memo, hoping to persuade a judge that home confinement would be appropriate for the Michigan City, Ind., resident.

"He is a colorful, self-made, charitable man who has worked hard throughout this entire admirable, extraordinary, and long life," Darryl Goldberg wrote. "Mr. Sharp made a monumental mistake at a moment of perceived financial weakness, and was exploited and threatened, but his conduct in this case was truly an aberration from a law-abiding life."

Sharp pleaded guilty last fall. The Michigan State Police caught him in 2011 with more than 200 pounds of cocaine on Interstate 94, although it wasn't his first shipment.

He admitted he was responsible for transporting more than 1,400 pounds of drugs that originated in Arizona. The government said it has evidence that Sharp was transporting marijuana and cocaine from the West Coast back in 2000.

"Mr. Sharp is dreadfully sorry," Goldberg said.

In preparation for the sentencing hearing, Sharp told court officials that he needed money. He said he was threatened when he tried to stop transporting drugs.

Sharp was diagnosed with dementia and other health problems and would be an expensive burden on the government if sent to prison, Goldberg said.

He is a World War II veteran who fought in Italy and was awarded the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest honor, for his service, Goldberg said.

Federal prosecutors will have an opportunity to make a sentencing recommendation.

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