DETROIT | An 87-year-old Michigan City man said he hauled cocaine from Arizona to Michigan because he feared drug dealers would harm him, his children and his grandchildren if he didn't.
"They forced me to take it," Leo Sharp told reporters before his arraignment Monday in federal court in Detroit on a charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Gray-haired, puffy-eyed and wearing a black suit that appeared a size or two too big for his frame, the chatty lily farmer from Michigan City detailed how he came to be caught with more than 200 pounds of cocaine along Interstate 94 about 60 miles west of Detroit.
Sharp said he was approached by someone acquainted with one of his employees in Florida.
"He asked me if I was busy. I said 'Not as busy as I'd like to be,'" said Sharp, who was told to drive north to Raleigh, N.C., and pick up luggage containing cash.
From there he drove cross-country to Arizona where he dropped off the luggage and picked up dozens of bricks of cocaine along with more money and a slip of paper with a freeway exit number in Detroit. Sharp said he was not threatened with weapons, but the intent of the people he was working for was clear.
"I knew what they were into," he said.
Sharp was pulled over near Chelsea in Washtenaw County on Oct. 21 for improper lane usage. A police dog was called in and sniffed out 104 bricks of cocaine. Sharp said money he was carrying also was seized.
"I hadn't delivered the money or the drugs," he said. "If I did, I'd have money and I don't have any money."
His attorney, Ray Richards, urged him to hold his tongue later during a hearing in front of federal Magistrate Steven Whalen but with little success.
When Whalen said he could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted and might have to pay a $10 million fine, a quick laugh escaped Sharp.
"I just borrowed $20,000 yesterday," he told the judge. The charge against him carries a minimum of 10 years in prison.
Whalen entered a "not guilty" plea on Sharp's behalf, and the farmer was released on bond.
Richards declined to comment afterward.