By Robert Snell The Detroit News
Detroit— Alleged drug dealers working for Mexico's most powerful narcotics ring joked about using an 87-year-old man to haul cocaine across the country, according to conversations secretly recorded by federal wiretaps.
They called Leo Sharp "grandfather" and the "old man" and expressed concern about the alleged drug mule's mental state.The recorded conversations, portions of which were filed in federal court, illustrate the odd marriage between an octogenarian and a notorious Mexican cartel.
Transcripts of the recorded phone calls and interviews reveal that Sharp was running late Oct. 18.
That was three days before federal drug agents dismantled a drug pipeline that allegedly pumped as much as 660 pounds of cocaine into Metro Detroit each month since 2008
Sharp, a mutton-chopped man from Michigan City, Ind., had to make a pit stop in Oklahoma — for dentures, according to federal court records."He's getting teeth put in in the next few days," said a laughing Pedro Delgado-Sanchez, 44.
Delgado-Sanchez of Miami has been charged alongside Sharp and 16 others in a massive drug conspiracy case in Detroit.
Sharp was hand-picked because the senior citizen was less likely to draw law-enforcement scrutiny, investigators said."This is just another relatively clever way drug-trafficking organizations try to avoid detection," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rich Isaacson said. "They will go to any length to avoid detection."
The plan failed.The Michigan State Police pulled over Sharp's black Lincoln Mark LT near Chelsea on Oct. 21.
Sharp was stopped for following too closely to another vehicle and improper lane use.Court records indicate DEA agents were targeting Sharp.
They had obtained a search warrant for his cellphone and tracked him as he traveled eastbound on Interstate 94.
After stopping Sharp, troopers searched the Lincoln and found 228 pounds of cocaine stashed in the bed of the pickup, according to court records.The cocaine was worth more than $2.9 million.
Sharp's lawyer, Darryl Goldberg, said the traffic stop appears to be suspicious.
"From what I've seen, there appears to be a very legitimate basis to challenge the traffic stop," he said.Isaacson, the DEA spokesman, defended the investigation.
"Any legal arguments regarding this investigation will be capably handled by (prosecutors) in the appropriate forum," he said.In an earlier interview, Sharp told The News he was forced at gunpoint to deliver cocaine across the country.
The indictment, unsealed Thursday, says otherwise.He has allegedly worked as a drug mule since 2009 and is responsible for delivering about 670 kilograms of cocaine to Michigan — or almost 1,500 pounds, according to court records.
The drug organization described in the indictment is part of the Sinaloa cartel based in Sinaloa, Mexico.The reputed leader of the cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is described by Mexican authorities as the country's top drug lord.
He's worth more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and has eluded authorities since his 2001 escape from prison in a laundry truck.The drug organization that allegedly used Sharp to transport cocaine also relied on members from Michigan, Mexico, Florida and California, according to prosecutors.
Since 2011, the DEA and other investigators have seized more than 200 kilograms of cocaine and more than $2.5 million cash.Drug shipments entered the United States in Arizona before being driven to Michigan.
The cocaine was unloaded and distributed to members of the drug ring, who met at a warehouse in Wyandotte, according to the indictment.
The members reportedly returned to the warehouse with cash from drug deals. The money was loaded into vehicles, including an RV, and driven back to the Mexican border.
(photo below is of Pedro Delgado-Sanchez)
In another monitored phone conversation, alleged drug ring member Octavio Humberto Gamez talked to Delgado-Sanchez about their elderly courier.
The conversation — translated from Spanish to English —was transcribed in court records:
Delgado-Sanchez: "Did he call you?"
Gamez: "Yeah."Delgado-Sanchez: "What did the old man tell you?"
Gamez: "He wanted to verify what he had told me because he couldn't remember what he had told me."Delgado-Sanchez: (Laughs).
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