It is well-known that the Sinaloa Cartel, run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is the most powerful drug organization in the world, supplying much of the heroin and cocaine that users get their hands on. The reach of the Sinaloa Cartel expands into the United States, mainly the Midwest. El Chapo and his organization are responsible for 80% of the drugs that are circulating through the city of Chicago, for instance. The cartel also has influence on Detroit, supplying more cocaine into the city than it had ever seen. Before Sinaloa, a huge bust in Detroit would constitute around 12 kilos of cocaine. After Sinaloa started getting busy, the D was seeing about 200 kilos a month. There was one man responsible for bringing all the blow into the city, but he does not fit the description of your everyday drug trafficker. He is 90-year-old Leo Sharp, known to the Sinaloa Cartel here and back in Mexico as “Tata,” or “The Grandfather.
Sharp was not always a drug courier. He was a veteran of World War II and renowned day lily farmer from Indiana. He was what is known as a “hybridizer,” meaning he created new kinds of day lilies. In fact, he is responsible for 180 variations of day lilies, registered to his Brookwood Gardens imprint. Day-lily enthusiasts would come from miles around to Sharp’s farm to see his flowers, which he would give away much of the time. However, the advent of the Internet slowed his business down, as he didn’t go electronic and stayed on paper.
The slow day lily business is what authorities believe made Sharp jump into the dope game. The workers on his farm were Mexicans, and it is believed that they introduced him to the Sinaloa Cartel. In the beginning, Sharp was used to move cash around for the cartel, but then, he became a drug runner, making a supposed $1,000 per kilo that he transported. His trips often began in Tuscon, AZ, where several stash houses were situated. Each stash house was filled with product going to a particular destination. For example, there was a house with drugs headed to Chicago, there was one for Detroit and another for Boston. Sharp would make his pickups at the Detroit house and set out on his journey to make the delivery. The NY Times wrote, “According to the cartel’s handwritten drug ledgers that the government obtained, he delivered 246 kilos in February 2010; 250 kilos in March; another 250 kilos the next month; 200 kilos the next; and another 200 the next.” “Tata” became an urban legend.
However, the feds became aware of “Tata” through wiretaps and information given by confidential informants with intimate knowledge of the cartel’s dealings. Sharp was arrested in October 2011 during traffic stop. Drug-sniffing dogs detected something in his pickup truck, and agents found 104 kilos in duffel bags, said to be worth $3 million. He was 87-years-old at the time. Sharp faced 20 years for drug trafficking. He admitted to transporting 1,400 pounds of drugs from Arizona, according to the DailyMail. His lawyers argued that he suffered from dementia and had been exploited by the Sinaloa cartel to do its bidding. They also argued that he had been threatened by the cartel when he tried to leave. In 2014, the judge was lenient with the 90-year-old veteran and sentenced Sharp to five to seven years in prison.
Though Sharp didn’t cooperate with authorities in any meaningful way, his arrest led to the arrests of several high-ranking drug dealers in the Detroit area. When all was said and done, the price on kilos of cocaine increased from about $30,000 to $43,000, a sign that the arrests had a true impact on the drug activities in the city. Nevertheless, to this day Leo “Tata” Sharp remains a legend.
Read the NY Times full story of Leo “Tata” Sharp here.