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U.S. drug 'mule' faces possible prison sentence on 90th birthday

By James B. Kelleher

DETROIT (Reuters) - An Indiana man who prosecutors said hauled well over a ton of cocaine to Michigan from the southwestern United States as part of a drug trafficking operation is set to be sentenced in federal court on Wednesday, his 90th birthday.

Leo Sharp, a decorated World War Two infantryman with the U.S. Army in Italy, was pulled over by the police in October 2011 for erratic driving on Interstate 94 with what turned out to be 104 bricks of cocaine in his truck, according to court documents.

He pleaded guilty last October to one count of conspiring to distribute cocaine in an agreement with prosecutors, who agreed to seek a sentence of five years in prison, a departure from guidelines that call for 14 to 17.5 years.

Sharp's attorneys have asked Judge Nancy Edmunds to sentence him to time served and supervised release, or home confinement, saying that he suffers from dementia and other health conditions and needs 24-hour monitoring.

"Labeling a war hero like Mr. Sharp a federal felon and forever tarnishing his reputation is sufficient punishment in itself. A sentence of imprisonment would be greater than necessary," attorney Darryl Goldberg said in a court filing.

Prosecutors said Sharp hauled 1,250 kilograms (2,755 pounds) of cocaine into Michigan from the southwest United States on a half-dozen trips from February 2010 until his arrest, earning $1,000 per kilogram of drugs he transported.

He also hauled duffel bags stuffed with cash back to the southwest border of the United States, as part of a criminal organization that flooded southeast Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana, with cocaine, prosecutors said.

"He profited, and profited handsomely, from trafficking an astounding amount of cocaine into this region with apparently little or no remorse," prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing memorandum.

Prosecutors said previously that the organization Sharp was working for was part of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel and had distributed 100 kilograms to 300 kilograms of cocaine per month in the Detroit area from July 2008 through 2011.

Sharp's plea agreement and reduced charge allowed him to avoid a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence. He agreed to forfeit two properties in Florida and $500,000 cash, but not his home and farm in Michigan City, Indiana.

(Additional reporting and writing by David Bailey in Minneapolis, editing by G Crosse)

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