On the day he turned 90, World War II veteran and Bronze Star Medal recipient Leo Sharp stood before a U.S. District judge and was sentenced to three years in federal prison for hauling $3 million worth of cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel.
Sharp told Judge Nancy Edmunds on Wednesday, "I'm really heartbroken I did what I did. But it's done." He also told her that if he ends up in prison, he will take his own life.
Edmunds did not deliver the verdict lightly. She said:
This is not a victimless crime. This is a huge drug operation, and Mr. Sharp was right in the middle of it.
It would be weak for me to say, ‘Well, he’s an old man ...’ I think respect for the law requires there be some custody in this case.
Without serving prison time, Edmunds fears that drug cartels would get the wrong message. She said, "If you want to inoculate your organization from punishment … get an elderly person to do your deliveries for you, because they’re not going to go to prison for it."
However, Sharp's attorney, Darryl Goldberg, hoped his client's age and decorated war service would convince the judge to go easy. He said, "Mr. Sharp is part of a great generation … before we were even born, he was on top of mountains fighting Nazis." Goldberg said prison is no place for a man of Sharp's age and is certainly no way to "honor our heroes."
Goldberg added that Sharp suffers from dementia and was "brainwashed" and threatened at gunpoint to do the cartel's bidding. But Judge Edmunds did not see it that way. She called this defense an "insult to all people who have dementia and don't get involved in illegal activity."
In addition to prison time, the federal government is also seizing Sharp's Florida property and has leveled a $500,000 fine against him. For now, Sharp has been released to the custody of his step-son until he starts his sentence.
Sharp was arrested in 2011 in Indiana after police found 228 pounds of cocaine during a traffic stop. The government believes he was paid more than $1 million over the several years he trafficked shipments from Mexico to Detroit for the cartel.