Former DEA agents who once labored to imprison drug smugglers are now doing their best to spring one of them.
Richard ‘Dickie” Lynn is an Islamorada man who grew up in the Keys pot-smuggling culture, graduated to cocaine smuggling and is now serving a life sentence for a variety of offenses including cocaine smuggling and escaping.
The government is scheduled to respond to Lynn’s petition to get out of federal prison on Monday. Lynn, who is acting as his own attorney, has asked for special relief because he is ill. Now 64, he was told months ago that he has 70 percent blockages in three of four arteries to his heart.
In a call from prison Wednesday, he talked about his worries that he will die in prison.
“We’re like cattle with tags in our ears here,” Lynn said. “They deny everybody.”
Lynn has now spent some 30 years behind bars. Several former drug agents have written letters in support of his release. They include Ken Davis, an Islamorada village council member with a 22-year DEA career.
“Really what it comes down to is that guy’s 65 years old next month. I mean, there are rapists, there are murderers, there are child molesters that get out in far less time,” Davis said recently.
Davis thinks that Lynn is still in prison largely because soon after his conviction for his part in a large smuggling operation in Alabama in the late 1980s, he escaped from a temporary holding facility.
“I think if Dickie hadn’t escaped from prison for six months, he would have been out 13 years ago.”
Friends and family — they describe themselves as “Dickie’s Angels” — have a Facebook page and a change.org petition dedicated to winning Lynn’s freedom. The Islamorada village council, on which Davis sits, wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging Lynn’s release.
The letter calls smuggling “a traditional crime in the history of the Florida Keys,” but said the island city welcomes back all residents who served their sentences and hopes to do the same for Lynn.
“I love ‘em, those people. That’s the Keys. That’s the tight-knit community. That’s what’s so different from any other place. We all went to school together, we grew up together, we smuggled together. We had moms and dads listening to the scanner and letting us know what happened.” Lynn said. “Everybody wanted to be involved in it.”
And plenty were, including a childhood friend of Lynn’s and fellow ex-dope smuggler Jorge Cabrera, who spent 15 years in prison.
“He’s a good friend of mine. We started together, it’s a shame the time that they gave him… He’s like my brother,” Cabrera said.
Lynn and his supporters argue that he’s spent enough time behind bars, especially considering everyone else involved in his case has already been released.
“I’ve got a nonviolent drug case, a ghost dope case. They never busted me with anything,” Lynn said.
But not everyone sees it that way, especially since after Lynn was arrested the first time, he escaped and was on the lam for six months before he was recaptured. In between, he returned to the business he knew best.
Former federal agent Tom Raffanello, who served as head of Florida’s DEA, retired to Islamorada and remembers Lynn’s case. He keeps hearing from residents that Lynn has done enough time in prison, and he disagrees. Wholeheartedly.
“No he hasn’t. Dickie Lynn escapes prison and gets caught planning another dope caper. Sometimes, you got to smell the coffee. He’s a career criminal and he doesn’t give a [expletive] about destroying a family, or destroying people by getting dope out there,” Raffanello said. “Dickie Lynn should rot in prison.”
Lynn was busted along with 22 others in his smuggling operation in 1989 in Alabama. All but one other in the outfit was released from prison after serving 10 years. The other served 17 years and was considered the group’s enforcer, Davis said.
After Lynn’s conviction, federal prosecutors working for Jeff Sessions, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, wrote a stiff sentencing report requesting a judge give Lynn seven life sentences, even though by this time he had been acquitted on two of the seven smuggling counts against him.
Prosecutors were using the sentencing report as a stick to get Lynn to cooperate with authorities going after other smugglers and their assets, Davis said. But to Lynn, it put him in a no-win situation, and he escaped from a temporary holding facility.
Agents caught up with him six months later in Mississippi and found him in the process of putting together another smuggling caper. The sentencing guidelines calling for the multiple life terms were in place when he escaped, and since he skipped, prosecutors in Alabama were in no mood to make a deal with him now.
Still, Davis said Lynn did begin cooperating with law enforcement in Mississippi soon after he was captured, resulting in arrests and the busting up of a smuggling operation that imported more than 33,000 pounds of cocaine. Because of this, federal prosecutors in Mississippi reached out to their counterparts in Alabama arguing Lynn deserved a “Rule 35” hearing in which a judge considers a reduction in sentencing based on a defendant’s cooperation in other investigations.
But, according to Davis, the Alabama prosecutor handling Lynn’s case declined since he had escaped and gone back to smuggling.
When the five-member Islamorada council voted in November to send the letter to Trump asking for Lynn’s release, the one “no” vote was Councilwoman Cheryl Meads, who cited Lynn’s escape as her reason.
“Making a mistake the first time is so much easier to forgive,” Meads said at the meeting.
Residents who attended that meeting also said Lynn should be released to live out the rest of his days in Islamorada. Van Cadenhead, who grew up in the Keys with Lynn, said he is one of the few people left alive in his immediate family.
“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.”