Ninety-Year-Old Leo Sharp Was El Chapo's Top Drug Mule

By Paul Gaita 07/03/14

New details have emerged regarding the world's most infamous nonagenarian drug courier.

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Leo Sharp. Photo via

To most people, Leo Sharp was a kindly senior citizen with a flair for producing eye-popping hybrids of day lilies. A World War II veteran and great-grandfather, Sharp earned a reputation among flower enthusiasts for his generosity, giving away his creations at flower shows across the country and inviting visitors to his farms in Indiana and Florida.

Few of his fans would ever suspect that the elderly, seemingly frail Sharp had been one of the most prolific drug couriers for the Detroit branch of the Sinaloa cartel, which until recently had been one of the most powerful drug-trafficking organizations in the world. At the time of his arrest in 2011, Sharp, who was known among cartel members as “Tata” or “El Viejito” – Grandfather or “Little Old Man” - had reportedly transported more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine on cross-country trips for the cartel that netted him a suspected $1 million.

Sharp gave no concrete reason for his participation in the cartel’s trafficking activities, though some law enforcement officials suspected that his motives were purely financial: like many older business owners, Sharp had failed to upgrade his flower catalog from print to an online edition.

As for why the cartel selected an elderly man to transport their product to drug houses in Florida, North Carolina, and other locations, the reason is deceptively simple: Sharp was an old man with a legitimate U.S. driver’s license and no criminal record – a profile that would give the DEA agents tracking the cartel’s activities inside American borders little reason to suspect him.

Sharp played the frail and elderly man card to the hilt at the time of his arrest in 2011, reminding the DEA agents who stopped him in Detroit of his age on numerous occasions before drug-sniffing dogs drew attention to his truck. Inside, they found 104 kilos of cocaine. Though Sharp gave no information about his connection to the Detroit cartel, a phone number found in his car led them to 19 of their members in various operations across the United States in February 2012.

A year later, Sharp pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges; his defense attorneys attempted to paint him as a man in the grip of senility who had been forced to carry drugs for violent criminals. The presiding judge agreed with the prosecution’s assessment that Sharp was in full command of his facilities and motivated by pure financial greed, and handed down a sentence of three years. He was allowed to keep his lily farm as part of his plea deal.

Less than a year after his conviction, the Sinaloa cartel’s chief, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, was arrested in Mexico.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.