Like countless other Florida Keys residents in the 1970s and ‘80s, Islamorada’s Richard “Dickie” Lynn was lured by the fast life and easy money of marijuana and cocaine smuggling.
And he certainly wasn’t the exception when he got busted by federal agents in 1989. But unlike most of the other smugglers who got nabbed at the time, Lynn remains in prison and is scheduled to stay there for the rest of his life.
The Islamorada Village Council late last month voted 4-1 to write a letter to the White House urging clemency for Lynn, who is 64 and in failing health. Although his case is complicated because he escaped for about six months after his initial conviction, council members say he has been in prison long enough — 29 years.
“We are urging clemency for a local son who is welcome back into the community,” said Councilman Ken Davis during the Nov. 29 meeting.
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Ironically, Davis, who is Lynn’s biggest champion on the dais, went after people like him for a living when he served in the U.S. Coast Guard in the ‘80s, and later in his career as a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I was here to catch Dickie Lynn. Now, I’m taking phone calls from him,” Davis said.
The meeting was Davis’ first as a village councilman, but his taking up of Lynn’s cause goes back to the summer after hearing from Jorge Cabrera, a locally infamous smuggler who once rubbed shoulders with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and served 15 years for smuggling. Cabrera gave a presentation over the summer in Islamorada about the heyday of drug smuggling in South Florida and told Davis he was amazed that Lynn was still locked up.
“There are child molesters and rapists who are free after 15 years, and this guy is none of those,” Davis said.
Even the agents who worked on the case back then have written letters supporting clemency, according to Davis.
Federal agents arrested Lynn along with 22 others in his operation in Alabama in 1989. Everyone else in the group, save one who served 17 years and was considered the operation’s enforcer, was released after 10 years.
After Lynn’s conviction, federal prosecutors under Jeff Sessions, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and most recently President Donald Trump’s embattled attorney general, wrote a stiff sentencing report urging a judge to give him seven life sentences, even though he was acquitted of two of seven counts.
The strategy was to persuade Lynn to cooperate with authorities going after other smugglers and assets. Instead, it encouraged Lynn to escape from a temporary holding facility.
“If a guy hands you seven life sentences, I’m sure everyone in here says, ‘I’m going to try to find a way to tunnel out of this place,’ ” said Councilman Jim Mooney, who grew up with Lynn and supports his release from prison.
“He’s not violent. Dickie is really a great guy who got caught up and got caught,” Mooney said during the Nov. 29 Village Council meeting where the vote to send the clemency request was taken. “Just like the rest of those who got caught up and got caught, none of them have ever been in trouble again. This wasn’t ‘Miami Vice.’ ”
Officials with the Southern District of Alabama did not respond to emailed requests for comment on the case.
Lynn was caught in Mississippi six months later in the process of putting together another smuggling deal. Since the sentencing guidelines calling for seven life sentences were in place when he escaped, any deal to lower his sentence became unlikely. Nevertheless, Lynn immediately began cooperating with agents working on a regional federal and state drug task force in the Southern District of Mississippi.
“He gave the government two of the biggest world cocaine kingpins there were who were responsible for over 33,000 pounds of cocaine,” said Davis, adding that both the “kingpins” Lynn helped authorities lock up were released years ago.
“In his cooperation, hundreds of millions of dollars of assets were seized. People were put in jail,” Davis said. “OK, here’s the sad part. These two kingpins are out of prison, and Dickie’s still in.”
Davis said Lynn’s escape was an embarrassment to Sessions’ prosecutors who were trying to get him to flip on other smugglers with the threat of the multiple life sentences. After that, Davis said, Lynn’s fate was sealed.
“He is in prison because the Southern District of Alabama just doesn’t like him. That’s about what it comes down to,” Davis said. “He lost his right to appeal when he escaped from prison.”
According to Davis, prosecutors in the Southern District of Mississippi approached Alabama federal prosecutors arguing Lynn deserved a “Rule 35” hearing in which a judge hears whether to reduce a defendant’s sentence based on his cooperation with prosecutors. The Alabama prosecutor handling Lynn’s case “literally turned her back” to the Mississippi prosecutors, Davis said.
“He’s been sitting in prison ever since,” he said.
Councilwoman Cheryl Meads was the only “no” vote on the clemency request to the White House. She said she wishes Lynn well, but is bothered by the amount of cocaine he smuggled during his career and that he went back to his old ways immediately after escaping justice.
“Making a mistake the first time is so much easier to forgive,” Meads said, adding she knew her vote wasn’t needed for the letter to be sent to Trump.
Longtime Islamorada resident Van Cadenhead, who like Mooney, grew up with the Lynn family, praised the council, and Davis in particular, for trying to free his old friend.
“I put his little sister Dee Dee and big brother Doug out on Alligator Reef, their ashes, already. He’s basically the only one left,” Cadenhead said. “He’s more than served his time for this. He got caught up in it like everybody else did.”