Retirement doesn’t have to be boring. These senior citizens bypassed the bingo nights and became involved in some of the most high-profile drug smuggling and dealing cases in recent history.
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By McCarton Ackerman
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Earlier this month, 90-year-old Indiana native Leo Sharp was sentenced to three years in prison on federal drug trafficking charges. The World War II veteran hauled more than a ton of cocaine across state lines to Michigan, collecting over $1 million in the process, before finally being caught in 2011. His crimes called for a minimum of 14 years, but government officials called for a five-year sentence and his attorney argued for no jail time, citing Sharp’s ongoing health issues as being a burden to the prison system. After being sentenced, Sharp told the court he was “heartbroken I did what I did. But it’s done.”
However, this is hardly the first time senior citizens have been the masterminds of profitable and high-powered drug trades. Check out 14 other classic examples of drug dealing and smuggling grandmas and grandpas.
Richard Heritz, 85, marijuana
Here’s a prison care package that goes well beyond razors and toothbrushes. The elderly grandpa was arrested in 2010 for trying to smuggle marijuana for his grandson, who was incarcerated for burglary. Police received a tip that Heritz was planning to smuggle in drugs and was pulled over by state troopers, who discovered more than 20 grams of marijuana on him. He was charged with attempting to convey drugs on the grounds of a detention facility, a third-degree felony, and possessing criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony There was also plenty of time for family bonding afterwards as Heritz was placed in a cell not too far from his grandson in the same prison. He was eventually released on $10,000 bond, but faced up to seven years in jail on the charges, tantamount to a life sentence for the 85-year-old.
Arsain bin Anwar, 84, crystal meth
This elderly grandfather is now facing a brutal death by a firing squad after being caught smuggling more than $400,000 worth of crystal meth into Bali, Indonesia. He was arrested earlier this month after airport security officials in Bali found 5.5 pounds of the drug in his luggage, but bin Anwar claimed to have no idea he was transporting drugs. The Indonesian citizen, who currently lives in Malaysia, was paid just $62 to transport the package, but said he did so because he desperately needed to cover the medical costs of his ailing wife. Another man was suspected to be involved in the drug ring, but he managed to skip past customs and has still evaded police.
Roza Shusterman, 80, prescription drugs
Some people start their criminal record late in life. Shusterman was arrested on drug selling charges for the first time in 1993, at the age of 70, and received two more convictions in the next 10 years, with her last coming in May 2002. She avoided prison the following January by pleading guilty to felony drug sales of prescription pills and a misdemeanor drug possession charge. She operated entirely in and around her Brooklyn apartment, with neighbors reporting that she would stand on the street and pull pills out of her housecoat to sell. But having suffered from a multitude of ailments, she died from heart failure just one month after her guilty plea. The lawyer for her accomplice, 78-year-old Faina Kodner, tried to keep the fellow Russian grandma out of jail by arguing that she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and would be a burden to the prison system.
Barbara Stiff, 79, marijuana
You wouldn’t think it based on her warm smile, but this Australian great-grandmother was arrested last June after police found 67 grams of marijuana in her apartment. Stiff admitted to selling the drugs, but said they belonged to her daughter, who was using the drug as pain relief before she passed away that year. After admitting that she allowed her dying daughter to smoke pot in her house, her local housing commission tried to remove her from the apartment she had lived in for the last 30 years. Stiff was sentenced last January to a four-month suspended jail sentence and four-month good behavior bond. She later told reporters that she was embarrassed by the trial, but relieved to put it behind her and have a chance to move forward from a difficult year.
Albert Martin, 73, heroin and cocaine
Some drug dealing businesses are family-owned and operated. The 73-year-old was arrested on drug charges along with his 20-year-old grandson, Troy Martin. The Pittsburgh bust came after police found 24 heroin bricks totaling $12,000, an ounce of cocaine worth $10,000, a 30-round magazine belonging to Troy and over $4,200 in cash. The arrest came after a three-month investigation by local police.
Luther and Audrey Beaver, 74, and 63, marijuana and LSD
In another case of keeping it in the family, this Ohio couple was arrested in 1981 for dealing drugs throughout the city of Columbus, with their clients even affectionately naming them “Grandpa” and “Grandma.” They each pleaded guilty to one count of drug trafficking, admitting to selling marijuana and LSD out of their home as a means of supplementing income from their monthly $381 Social Security checks. A police raid of their home found $10,000 worth of LSD and seven pounds of pot. They faced up to 10 years in prison on the charges, but their attorney argued for a sentence that didn’t include jail time because they refused to sell drugs to minors and were suffering from health problems.
Darlene Mayes, 73, marijuana
Known around Tulsa, OK as the “Ganja Grandma,” Mayes was responsible for a drug ring that distributed 40 percent of the marijuana around the city, as well as into parts of Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. Police raided her home in April 2012 and found four pounds of pot, $276,000 in cash and two weapons. The money was contained in bundles of bills labeled “$15,000,” as well as a vacuum-sealed bag holding $200,000. Mayes initially told officers that the money was for her retirement fund before owning up to the massive operation. Police also reported that she had a bevy of dealers working for her, including her son Jerry, who was also arrested on drug charges.
James Evans, 70, synthetic marijuana
Instead of receiving mail from Publishers Clearing House, this Texas grandfather was arrested last September for having a delivery with 20 packages of synthetic marijuana sent to his home. Local police in the town of Raymondville reported that not only was Allen selling the synthetic pot to young people in the neighborhood, but that “he was also later found with cocaine in his possession and marijuana individually wrapped ready for distribution.” He admitted to selling the drugs, but said he did it to send money to his out-of-town grandchildren. Allen also admitted that a relative was selling him the drug packages and Raymondville police issued a warrant for the relative's arrest shortly after.
Owulabi and Omowunmi Ganiyu Amoo, 60 and 57, heroin
This Nigerian couple didn’t have a particularly joyous New Year’s Eve in 2010, spending it with airport security officials in the city of Lagos as they excreted 160 wraps of heroin. Owulabi admitted that the couple were given an initial payment of $2,000 and could have received an additional $8,000 if they successfully brought the drugs into New York City, their final destination. The couple later begged for forgiveness and attributed the smuggling to financial hardships they were facing. “I need money for school fees, rent and feeding. I started the drug business in 2009. I feel sad and regret my involvement in drug trafficking,” he said. “The excitement of $10,000 per trip was irresistible.”
Theresa Anderson, 58, crack
Her neighbors in Buffalo saw Anderson as a lovable grandma, so they were shocked to find the dozen houses she bought along two nearby streets were all used for a massive drug operation. Using several of her relatives to push the drugs, police claim that she controlled the local drug trade through fear and violence, but also kept the area clean and safe for other community members. She was finally arrested in February 2012 for the “24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week” crack trade and faced more than 17 years in prison, but her attorney, Robert Ross Fogg, blamed her drug dealing on a drug problem. “Drugs, they take hold of you,” he said. They take your soul and they take your mind.”
Lindsay Sandiford, 57, cocaine
This British grandma is currently on death row in Bali after police found more than $2.4 million in cocaine on her as she entered Bali International Airport in 2012. She was condemned to death by firing squad in January 2013, despite the fact that prosecutors asked for a relatively minor 15-year sentence. Her three accomplices in the smuggling were also sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to six years on lesser charges including possession. She filed an appeal against her death sentence last August, but it was unanimously rejected. Two months later, she was moved to another jail cell after being viciously attacked by her cellmate. A source reported that “she was shocked and depressed when she was sentenced to death, then she just shut herself off and cried in her cell. When Lindsay asked [her] South African [cellmate] to stop being so noisy, [the cellmate] punched her.”
McCarton Ackerman has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2011. He recently wrote about 12 shocking drug news items from Florida and Esther Nicholson.