June 24, 2020

KEY LARGO — After being locked up in federal prison for 31 years on a life sentence, former cocaine smuggler Richard “Dickie” Lynn has been granted a compassionate release and is coming home to the Upper Keys on Monday, June 29.

A motion seeking Lynn’s release filed by law students at the Criminal Justice Clinic at University of California Irvine School of Law was granted last week by Southern District of Alabama Judge William Steele.

Contributed
Dickie Lynn was visited by longtime friend Kim Ferguson in January. Ferguson and others have been working to get Lynn released for the last decade. Lynn has been granted a compassionate release effective June 29.

Lynn’s release has become a local cause célèbre in recent years with dedicated social media pages, letter-writing campaigns and even a “Release Dickie Lynn” float in Key Largo’s Fourth of July parade.

“The motion that the clinic wrote was filed with the tons of letters of support for Dickie that people have written over the years,” said Katie Tinto, clinical professor of law and director of the justice clinic. “He’s definitely one of the most popular people I’ve worked with over the years. People wrote letters promising to support him and offer him honest employment. And even though it’s not referenced in the judge’s order, I have to believe they [letters] were weighed in his decision and because Dickie has a large network of support and he has demonstrated his commitment of not getting into trouble again.”

Tinto said Lynn’s case met the criteria for a compassionate release, which is determined by age, health conditions and serving at least 10 years or 75% of a prison term. Lynn, who has heart disease and turns 66 in July, has been on lockdown in prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve never had a client with such a strong fan base,” Tinto said. “Federal sentencing laws especially in the late ‘80s and ‘90s were extremely harsh, so I was drawn to drug cases that were intuitively unfair. The fact that he had been serving life and he had already spent 30 years in prison is what drew my attention to his case.”

In 1989, Lynn, who was a Coral Shores High School graduate and drill truck business owner, and 23 others were indicted and tried in federal court on numerous drug charges.

In a multi-count indictment, Lynn was charged with participating in an ongoing conspiracy to import cocaine by plane into Alabama from 1982 to 1989. During those years, Lynn’s drug-trafficking enterprise smuggled massive amounts of cocaine, at least 600 kilograms per load. According to court documents, Lynn imported 13,200 kilos, or more than 29,000 pounds, of cocaine from Colombia to Mobile, Ala., over the years.

Lynn was convicted of seven drug crimes: conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, three counts of importation of cocaine and two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

In March 1990, Lynn escaped from prison in a food truck and remained on the lam for several months, before being caught in Gulfport, Miss. An attempt to escape a second time failed in 1992. Over the decades, many of Lynn’s cohorts were gradually released from prison, while he remained behind bars.

Lynn’s story is a true Conch tale of a bygone era when drug smuggling was rampant in the Keys, according to Islamorada Vice Mayor Ken Davis, a former DEA agent who persuaded his fellow council members to draft a letter in December 2018 supporting clemency for Lynn.

“I have talked to Dickie on the phone, but I don’t know him personally,” Davis said. “I’ve known of him for nearly 40 years and no one has ever said anything bad about him. I was in the U.S. Coast Guard chasing him in the early ‘80s.”

Davis is happy to hear of Lynn’s release.

“His life sentence was retaliatory by the prosecutor in the Southern District of Alabama,” Davis said. “Dickie was the only person left for her to take her wrath out on, which she did. He’s not a violent person, and it just isn’t right that he’s been locked up for this long.”

Four federal agents who pursued Lynn were also calling for his release.

“Boy, are we excited. I’ve been working with the Can-Do [Justice Through Clemency] Foundation and we put together a clemency package to send to President Trump,” said Kim Ferguson, a friend of Lynn’s. “There were four DEA agents that put work into this. There were so many people that put work into this. We’ve been working on this for years and then [Can-Do founder] Amy [Povah] sent the justice clinic the package and they took on his case. The bottom line is that we knew that he should be able to get out and we’re pretty excited. He has been waiting a long time for this.”

Povah has been working with Lynn for about six years and sought clemency under two presidential administrations. Lynn was referred to her with “glowing recommendations.”

“We were disappointed that the Obama Administration rejected our clemency application. His sentencing was punitive and a miscarriage of justice, but the fact that he’s getting to go home to his friends and family is endearing and beautiful,” Povah said.

If Lynn hadn’t escaped from prison once and made a second attempt, he may have had his sentencing reduced much earlier, Povah said.

“We are over the moon, we are so excited. This was just a wonderful surprise with his medical condition being compromised with the pandemic,” she said.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, Lynn and other prison inmates have been on lockdown since March 15, with only a few hours allowed outside their cells each week.

“He didn’t even know he was [getting] let out,” Ferguson said. “We had to tell him.”

Lynn wants nothing more than to return to the Keys and sit under a palm tree, according to friends.

“No one else could have survived this long in prison but Dickie,” Ferguson said. “He’s a Christian man and he’s been praying every day, which is what we all did.”

tjava@keysnews.com