In 2011, Leo Sharp was arrested by the DEA after many years on the run. He was a former American soldier, turned horticulturist, history will unfortunately remember his name as having been the most prolific drug courier in the United States. DEA agent Jeff Moore is one of the men behind the arrest. A few years later, the actor and director Clint Eastwood took over this story, obtained the rights to it and directed « The Mule ». The feature film tells this incredible story of a grandfather who became a drug courier to pay his debts. Clint Eastwood playq Leo Sharp, Earl Stone in the film, while Bradley Cooper plays the DEA Agent, renamed Colins Bates.
As part of the release of his new novel « The Quiet Houses », inspired by real events, Jeff Moore confesses on the arrest of Leo Sharp, their exchanges, the reality and the difficulties of his job and exclusive secrets !
« Leo would often stand up in court and interrupt the judge with unusual stories or jokes ».
At the time, Leo Sharp’s story received little media attention. There was only a small article in the New York Times. How did you react when you learned that Clint Eastwood was going to adapt this story ?
At the time of his arrest, Leo Sharp began to receive attention from different news media outlets due to his unusual behavior during court hearings and the notoriety of his crimes. He would often stand up in court and interrupt the judge with unusual stories or jokes. After the New York Times story was printed, Clint Eastwood quickly obtained the rights to make the story of Leo into a feature movie. Myself, other DEA agents and law enforcement personnel who assisted on the case only heard the news from media news stories of Mr. Eastwood’s interest in the story. There was not any contact between Mr. Eastwood’s production company and the DEA. […] The interview I conducted with New York Times writer, Sam Dolnick, became the framework for the script of the movie. I was not personally consulted during the production of the movie.
« He did offer me advice of prioritizing family over pursuits of money as was shown in the movie ».
There is a very touching scene between Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) and Colins Bates (Bradley Cooper) in a fast food restaurant. Is this a sequence that you really experienced ? And, is it true to life ? If not, how did you experience it ? Tell us about it…
I had a similar experience with Leo Sharp where we talked for quite a while. After I arrested him on Interstate 94 near Chelsea, Michigan, I transported him in my car to our DEA office in Detroit, Michigan. During the long car ride, he told me stories of his entire life, his childhood, his business ventures over the years, his war service in Italy during World War II, his love for hybridizing day lily flowers and stories of his family. He was one of the most interesting people I had met even aside from his drug trafficking.
Image : Colins Bates (Bradley Cooper) and Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) talking at a small roadside restaurant.
He told me when he became a famous botanical creator of new day lily species of flowers, he was a guest of President George H.W. Bush and was invited to plant some of his flowers in the rose garden of the White House. He did offer me advice of prioritizing family over pursuits of money as was shown in the movie. I could tell he realized the adventure he was living with the drug cartel was coming to an end and he would be going to prison soon.
Bradley Cooper plays « your role ». Is it true to who you are or is it a character totally reinvented for the film ?
Bradley Cooper’s character (Colin Bates) in the film is not a very deep character and is only two-dimensionally portrayed as a DEA Agent who caught Leo Sharp or Earl Stone in the movie. The mechanics of his job in pursuing Leo Sharp/Earl Stone as portrayed in the movie were similar to the work myself and other agents did at the time. The film didn’t build the character of Colin Bates into anything that I could make comparisons to myself other than the type of work we did and the determination he put forth in the case. This was a difficult time consuming case for myself which took years to bring to conclusion. I felt the comparison of the work ethic between Bradley’s character and myself was fair regarding the intensity and amount of work it took to capture Leo Sharp in the movie and in real life.
« I was disappointed as I felt his arrest was a stain on his legacy of having lived such an interesting life ».
There is a certain amount of misunderstanding and emotion when Colin arrests Leo Sharp. Tell us how you experienced this arrest, from your point of view ?
When Leo Sharp shared stories with myself of his family, his business ventures, his love of day lily flowers and his war service, I was disappointed as I felt his arrest was a stain on his legacy of having lived such an interesting life. A movie could have been made about Leo even if he had never been involved in drug trafficking. He was truly a very complex, intelligent and interesting person aside from his crimes. He had been a millionaire business man at one point in his life, owning a small airline. The company eventually went bankrupt and he started to fall away from the wealthy glamorous life he had enjoyed as an airline CEO during the early days of commercial flight.
The Quiet Houses, her new novel
« I’ve always loved writing and it has helped channel my anxiety and frustration with things I have experienced at work ».
What made you want to become a novelist ?
I started writing in college as a reporter for the campus newspaper and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in printing and graphic design. Unfortunately I lost my job (twice) as an illustrator in the fist few years out of college. The economy was rough and with a new baby and wife, I took a job temporarily as a police officer to pay the bills until I could get back to working as an artist and illustrator. I ended up loving the work as a police officer, an undercover narcotics detective and later a DEA Agent. Aside from law enforcement, I’ve always loved writing and it has helped channel my anxiety and frustration with things I have experienced at work.
During the pandemic, I began to write about some of the stories I experienced as an undercover police officer in Kansas City, Missouri in 2003. As I became engrossed in the writing, I began to recall a lot of memories of things I had never discussed with other people and I remembered stories I had put aside in the back of my mind. I decided the story needed to be told (honestly) and I challenged myself to learn the craft of creating a compelling story people would find interesting and not want to put down. I also believed I could present a realistic view of the the world that few people get to see.
« I had failed in my new assignment as a narc and was almost removed from the undercover drug unit I had worked so hard to get promoted to ».
Is The Quiet Houses based on a true story ?
Yes, it is, and it’s hard to believe. As I mentioned, I transitioned from the life of a suburban graphic artist living a comfortable life, never have seen anything other than a marijuana roach once in college to a street-walking drug addict visiting the most violent and dangerous drug houses in Kansas City, Missouri. The story is not flattering to the drug war in any way and is not meant to politicize drug addiction. The story takes place in 2003 and was during a time when he fight against drugs was done differently than today. For better or worse, it was somewhat less regulated with structure. The police were free to carry out their drug cases with less supervision and accountability compared to today’s law enforcement agencies.
I had failed in my new assignment as a narc and was almost removed from the undercover drug unit I had worked so hard to get promoted to. My supervisor, assigned me to work with an unmanageable informant, Tamera Josephine Mack. We simply called her Tammy Mack or just Tammy. She was a boisterous African American woman from the streets who smoked cherry flavored cigars and was Ernest Hemingway when it came to using creative profanity. I contentiously worked with Tammy for a year during the most unbelievable and life changing journey of my life. Tammy was an informant who trained new narcs for a living. She had her hands full with me and eventually she was successful in mentoring me how to buy drugs and survive on the streets without getting killed. We eventually became friends but the adventure together was truly like nothing I had every experienced or ever will again. The book is a crime thriller in all accounts but is also a memoriam tribute to her life as well.
« The anxiety of transitioning from a cop to a drug addict and walking into crack houses each day diminished my mind and body ».
Could you tell us more about the 3 characters : Jeff, Ryan et Tamera…
The three primary characters of the story are the protagonists, Tamera and myself and the antagonist, Sgt. Ryan Shale, the corrupt supervisor of the Kanas City Street Narcotics Unit (SNU). In the book, I narrate in first person my time with SNU in the year 2003. In my narration, I share challenging experiences and failures I had to endure during my early days working drug cases. The anxiety of transitioning from a cop to a drug addict and walking into crack houses each day diminished my mind and body. I lost 25 pounds becoming cadaverously thin from the intense anxiety and failure to process the stress. I fell into vices of drinking and smoking on the job while my mind began to blur the distinct lines between right and wrong.
The character of Tammy is based on the real person, Kanas City Police Informant #3071 who lived her life unapologetically and without fear. She worked for the department for many years and even did some work for the DEA. She was my mentor and friend who kept me from harm’s way during those unusual times. She was larger than life and I’ve been honest and respectful in my recollections of her persona throughout my book.
Sgt. Shale, who was once the most decorated cop in the city, now had become a fallen soldier in the drug war aligning himself for profit with a powerful heroin trafficker in Kansas City. Shale was able to recruit other narcs into his confederacy of co-conspirators stealing drugs and money off of the streets. The story culminates in a final battle of good versus evil or at least Shale versus Jeff and Tammy.
The action takes place in Kansas City. Is it a city more affected by drug trafficking than any other in the United States ?
The story takes place in Kansas City due to the historical setting of the story which did occur there in real life. Most urban densely populated cities in the US are currently battling the drug epidemic which has now reached unprecedented levels of destruction. The US has reached the milestone of over 100,000 drug overdose deaths per year. Kansas City is one among many cities with a common problem of drug addiction and violence.
Image : Kansas City, seen from the sky
« We will never conquer this problem until we reduce the demand for illegal drugs ».
More and more people are turning to delinquency, theft and drug trafficking to try to get by financially. In your book, we meet people who are lost, abandoned by society, left to fend for themselves. As a DEA agent, how did you deal with this human misery ?
Drugs hit poor disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities the hardest. As a DEA agent, we target the most significant drug traffickers who make millions of dollars from the sale of drugs throughout our cities. I don’t have much sympathy for these people who destroy so many lives and create so much profit from doing so.
The challenge I see now is there are so many people addicted to drugs in our country. The number of overdose deaths support this as well. We will never conquer this problem until we reduce the demand for illegal drugs.
« I hope our government will push more resources towards this problem but for now it is a difficult battle, one in which a lot lives have been lost and no end is in sight ».
Drugs are a real scourge. Do you think that your Government and the Governments of the world, in general, are really acting in the fight against drug trafficking ? And you, do you have any hope ? Because, sometimes, we have the feeling that your work is vain…
I have spent the last 23 years working narcotics and pursuing drug traffickers. Yes, there are days where I feel like the lone Japanese soldier rescued from a deserted island 60 years after the war has ended but who still believes he is in the middle of the war. I wish the answers were simpler and the path clearer but for me there is no other options. I’ve seen drugs destroy families, communities and the strongest of people. It’s a problem that diminishes and enslaves the greatest resource we possess, the human mind. I hope our government will push more resources towards this problem but for now it is a difficult battle, one in which a lot lives have been lost and no end is in sight.
Through your books, is there a message to pass on, especially to young people ?
I hope young readers will enjoy this story, it’s honesty, my friendship with Tammy and the realities of the struggles we went through in this forgotten fight called the drug war. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, only that you took a stand somewhere along the way. You can get the book « The Quiet Houses », it’s here. Also available in E-Book. Only in English version.
You can get the book « The quiet houses » here. It’s also available as an E-book. Only in English.
Image : DEA Agent Jeff Moore
Photo credit : Game of Crimes Podcast