By Michelle de Carion
A onetime Indy 500 Rookie of the Year is about to realize a dream he never thought possible: to be released from prison. He had been serving life without parole for marijuana trafficking.
Randy Lanier's days of playing chess and practicing tai chi in prison are coming to a close, as the U.S. government has issued his release from Coleman Federal Correction Complex in Coleman, Florida, according to Autoweek. For years, the popular GTP sports car champion has been reading letters from fans in jail, but now he will have the chance to shake their hands and thank them as he enters his new life outside of prison.
Lanier's career in auto racing flew fast into fame but ended just as abruptly when he was caught leading a multimillion-dollar drug empire. He started out racing in 1978 after visiting an auto show at the Miami Beach Convention Center and purchasing a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster. He later used it to win the SCCA Southeast Regional Championship. Lanier is well-known for winning the 1986 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and becoming the 1984 IMSA Camel GT champion.
In 1984, Lanier formed Blue Thunder Racing without a corporate sponsor. As his team rose to fame and fortune, the FBI began to question the team's source of finances. They discovered that Lanier was involved in importing and distributing 300 tons of Colombian marijuana, amounting to $68 million. He later acknowledged that illegal proceeds funded Blue Thunder's championship run.
Lanier attempted to escape his incarceration by fleeing the country but was arrested in Antigua on October 26, 1987. The courts sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in 1988 under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute, sometimes called the "Super Drug Kingpin Law."
After serving 26 years of a life sentence, 60-year-old Lanier will be released October 15 and stay for six months at a residential reentry center, where he will be closely monitored. According to Autoweek, he already has plans to work at a South Florida classic car museum.
Lanier's sudden release is under suspicion by many. U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert gives no apparent reason for the IndyCar racer's gift of freedom. However, the motion does come on the heels of a proposal by U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to reduce sentencing for convicted drug dealers while seeking to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
"He has served his time with dignity and respect. He has helped mentor young people in the prison system," Stephen Ross Johnson, lead attorney for Lanier, told Autoweek.
Johnson told New Times he could not elaborate on the reasons for Lanier's release:"The filings by the defense and the government in Mr. Lanier's matter leading to the court's order releasing him are under seal. I cannot comment further."
And he didn't know exactly where Lanier intended to work: "I have no comment on the information in Autoweek.com concerning Mr. Lanier's plans."
A Facebook page calling for Lanier's release said this:
Cheri here with AMAZING NEWS! Randy did not want to talk about this until it had actually happened, but the press has scooped us. Yes, the rumors ARE true, Randy Lanier, after serving 27 years in federal prison, is scheduled for release on October 15, 2014! That's all I can say for now. Randy will have a statement after his release with more details and after being reunited with his family. Until then, we are dealing with the federal government and the justice system so anything can happen and we do not want to celebrate until Randy is actually a free man. But we are all overjoyed to say the least, and for me personally, it has been soooo hard to keep this news under wraps for the past few months. Let's a plan a celebration for Randy next week after we know he has been released! Thank you!