Born: May 31, 1930
San Francisco, California, USA
Born: May 7, 1924
Birthplace: Michigan City, Indiana, USA
Death: December 12, 2016, Michigan, USA
Name changed to Earl Stone for the film
Born: January 5, 1975
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Name changed to Colin Bates for the film
Born: April 12, 1956
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán
Born: April 4, 1957
Birthplace: La Tuna de Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico
Name changed to Laton for the film
No. The Mule true story reveals that the name was changed for the movie. The real guy who inspired Clint Eastwood's character is Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran (not a Korean War veteran like in the film). Sharp's story gained national attention when The New York Times Magazine ran a 2014 article by Sam Dolnick titled "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule," which became the basis for the movie. The film offers a fictionalized backstory that tries to fill in the spaces Dolnick's article was unable to reach. Other names were also changed for the movie, as well as locations. For example, Sharp's home city of Detroit becomes Chicago in the film.
Yes. A fact-check of The Mule movie confirms that Leo Sharp had a flower business in Detroit called Brookwood Gardens. This is one aspect of Clint Eastwood's character that is not fiction. He owned a flower farm near Michigan City, Indiana, which sits on the shore of Lake Michigan where he lived for decades. Sharp specialized in daylilies and is credited with having 180 official daylily varieties registered to him (there are currently more than 75,000 different daylilies registered with the American Hemerocallis Society). Neighbors recall busloads of customers waiting outside his front gate to buy his one-of-a-kind flowers.
Sharp also attended daylily conventions around the country, often dressed in either an all-white or an all-black leisure suit. He even had a southern farm in Apopka, Florida. Much of his business consisted of selling daylilies from a catalog he produced, but as more people turned to the Internet, his catalog business floundered in the late 1990s. He became involved in drug running as a way to make money and get the business out of debt.
No. According to Sharp's lawyer, Darryl A. Goldberg, he believes that Sharp willingly became involved with the cartel through some of his Mexican farmhands (not via a Latino guest at his granddaughter's bridal brunch like in the film). "He has Mexican fellas working on the farms," says Goldberg. "They happen to know people who introduced him to other people who asked him if he wanted to get involved in something." It started out with ferrying cash, and then evolved into drugs. It is not uncommon for the cartels to seek out people who do not fit the mold of a typical criminal.
Picking someone older with no criminal record is fairly common. Another drug mule for the Sinaloa cartel was a 57-year-old man from Oklahoma named Walter Ogden. He had been on disability and had four heart attacks. Like Sharp, he certainly did not resemble a felon. Detroit D.E.A. agents busted him when he picked up $1.96 million in drug money from a warehouse in Wyandotte, Michigan.
"Leo is the perfect courier for the cartel," stated Jeremy Fitch, one of the D.E.A. agents involved in the case. "He has a legitimate ID, he's an older guy, he wouldn't be pegged as a drug runner, and he has no criminal history." -The New York Times
No. In researching The Mule true story, we learned that this part of the movie is entirely fictional and is not in The New York Times article on which the movie is based. The article sheds very little light on Sharp's family life. It doesn't mention his wife and only says that he is a World War II veteran with a daughter living in Hawaii. It also states that he is a great-grandfather.
A 2015 Daily Mail Online article describes Sharp as being a married father of three. According to records, his real wife's name is Ann. They were still married at the time of Sharp's death in 2016 (she had not died of cancer). She was only 3 years younger than Sharp, a far cry from the 18 years that separate the actors in the movie. In the film, Ann is fictionalized as a longtime estranged ex-wife named Mary and is portrayed by Dianne Wiest.
Yes. "He was able to get his farm out of hock and live a rather odd life," says director and star Clint Eastwood. This included taking time out to stop and help those in need. In the movie, we see him stuff a large amount of money into a container for a children's hospital fundraiser. He also uses his illegal money to renovate the local veteran's home. -USA Today
Yes. A fact-check of The Mule movie reveals that Bradley Cooper's character was inspired by D.E.A. Special Agent Jeff Moore, who captured 87-year-old Leo Sharp in 2011. Moore was interviewed by The New York Times about the investigation and Sharp's capture, which was turned into the article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" by Sam Dolnick. Moore was described then as being 43 with "short, spiky dark hair and a thin goatee," which is confirmed in the photo below. A former Kansas City street cop, Moore had eventually become an undercover narcotics officer. He spent his time trying to infiltrate the city's crack houses from the inside, often with a prostitute in tow. He moved on and joined the D.E.A. in 2004. -The New York Times
A dealer named Tusa told the D.E.A. (including Agent Jeff Moore who Bradley Cooper's character is based on) of a heavyweight named Ramon Ramos, who was the bookkeeper for a drug trafficking ring affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel. After Moore obtained a search warrant for Ramon Ramos' house, they discovered over $350,000. Ramos, who is renamed Luis Rocha in the movie, agreed to cooperate, hoping that the D.E.A. could assist in getting him immunity and into witness protection. Like in the film, he wasn't Mexican and didn't have family down in Sinaloa country, which was another reason why he agreed to help.
Ramos was connected to everyone in the Detroit arm of the Sinaloa cartel. He told D.E.A. agent Jeff Moore about an elderly man who worked as a courier for the cartel. Ramos knew the man only as Tata. Grandfather. The D.E.A. heard the name during wiretapped cartel conversations. With the D.E.A. watching from a distance, Ramos met Tata at a local warehouse that the cartel used. Tata, whose real name was Leo Sharp, came to pick up three duffel bags full of cash. It was the first time that Agent Moore got a glimpse of Sharp. "I was kind of surprised that he seemed like he was in pretty good health," Moore recalled. "When you hear 87 years old, you think of someone in a wheelchair. He was in good shape." -The New York Times
Yes. Leo Sharp operated on a scale that the D.E.A. office in Detroit had never encountered before. The cartel's handwritten drug ledgers revealed that in 2010, Sharp was transporting well over 200 kilos of cocaine per month, reaching as high as 250 kilos in both March and April of that year. He is believed to have made over $1 million in 2010 alone. Jeff Moore, the D.E.A. agent after Sharp said that Sharp became an urban legend, transporting drugs for more than a decade. At his trial, Sharp admitted to transporting more than a ton of cocaine into Michigan in exchange for $1.25 million.
On the day of his capture, he was hauling 104 kilos, which would have earned him roughly $104,000 for that trip, given that couriers were typically paid $1,000 per kilo. -The New York Times
Sharp, who was known to authorities as "Tata" (Grandfather) was captured on October 21, 2011 at age 87. He was driving a Lincoln pickup truck on Interstate 94 toward Detroit. A dozen D.E.A. officers positioned themselves along a 70-mile portion of the highway. Each officer joined the pursuit as Sharp passed. He didn't even know he was being tailed. Eventually, the D.E.A. had a state trooper pull him over, making it appear like a routine traffic stop. Sharp stepped from his pickup and demanded to know why he had been pulled over. "What's going on, officer?" inquired Sharp. "At age 87, I want to know why I'm being stopped."
Another officer arrived with a drug dog named Apollo and the dog's response to the locked truck bed gave them probable cause to open it, despite Sharp initially claiming that he didn't have the key. Sharp knew his days as a drug mule were about to end. "Why don’t you just kill me and let me, just, leave the planet," Sharp told the officer. Inside the truck bed were piles of clothes and five duffel bags containing a total of 104 kilos of cocaine. The Sinaloa cartel's most notorious drug mule had been captured. -The New York Times
The movie portrays the capture a little more dramatically, with Clint Eastwood's character driving toward a road block. He stops and exits his truck as officers and D.E.A. agents swarm the vehicle. He does get pulled over by a trooper earlier in the film, but he avoids getting caught by rubbing muscle cream on the drug dog's nose.
Delve deeper into The Mule true story by watching a brief news segment below that features Leo Sharp being interviewed on the day of his sentencing in 2014.