March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Cartel sent 300 kilos of cocaine to Detroit per month, feds say

By Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit— The most powerful drug cartel in Mexico pumped 300 kilograms — or more than 650 pounds — of cocaine into Metro Detroit each month since 2008, prosecutors said Thursday.

Federal drug investigators disrupted the alleged pipeline by charging 18 people in a massive drug conspiracy in U.S. District Court. The indictment provides new details on an unusual drug case involving an octogenarian who's accused of being a drug mule and a powerful international narcotics ring.

"This is a very significant investigation and should show all of us in southeast Michigan that these Mexican cartels are operating right here in our backyard," said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rich Isaacson.

The lead defendant is an 87-year-old mutton-chopped man from Michigan City, Ind., who made a colorful appearance in federal court last fall. Leo Sharp told The News he was forced at gunpoint to deliver cocaine across the country.

The indictment, unsealed Thursday, says otherwise.

He's 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.

Mexican authorities said they had dealt a blow to the drug cartel in October with the capture of a top lieutenant.

At the time, many experts and law enforcement officials believe the reputed leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, had been hiding in the mountains of Durango.

Authorities say Guzman is Mexico's top drug lord, while Forbes magazine has included him on its list of the world's richest men, reportedly worth more than $1 billion. He has eluded authorities since his 2001 escape from prison in a laundry truck, and has a $7 million bounty on his head.

Sharp, meanwhile, is a world-renowned horticulturalist and owner of a 46-acre farm where he grows 168 registered varieties of daylilies.

In an interview before a November court appearance, Sharp described a scheme hatched in Florida and stretching from North Carolina to Arizona. The scheme ended along Interstate 94, where drug agents say they found 228 pounds of cocaine stashed in the back of his 2006 Lincoln pickup.

The cocaine was worth more than $2.9 million.

During an Oct. 24 detention hearing, Sharp told a federal magistrate judge he was penning a book about the ordeal. He complained about hearing loss due to "cannon fire" and, while in jail, tried chatting up a child porn suspect and man facing gun charges.

He was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation.
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