Lakeland senior conned into trafficking meth

Posted at 3:52 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 10:26:38-05

His cane keeps him steadier on his feet.

His medication makes him thirsty.

"Excuse me,” he said taking a sip of water during an interview.

Rusty Soles of Lakeland celebrates his 75th birthday in May.

"Oh, I think it had everything to do with my age,” said Soles.

The septuagenarian survived 18 months in a New Zealand prison charged with trafficking more than $3 million in drugs.

"They took two years out of my life. I lost a lot but I came home from the Vietnam War feeling the same way and I put all that back together again,” he explained.

He can't even pronounce what customs agents say they found in a suitcase he carried.

"Afetamines? Metaphetmaines? I can't even, I don't even know what it is? Metphetamines,” he said.

It all started when Soles flew to South Africa to meet a client who called himself Lawrence Green.

"I believed he was an investor. I believed he was somebody that would because he talked so much about investing in real estate and investing in businesses,” said Soles.

The man never showed up and instead sent Soles a suitcase to bring to Figi and meet him there.

"I went through any pockets, or any place inside or around it, through it and everything, convinced myself there was nothing in that suitcase, but clothes and there was nothing in the clothes so I put it all back together. I said, 'I don't have no problem,'” he said.

He did though.  

When customs split the suitcase open finding a load of crystal meth.

Now the FBI believes he's among dozens of elderly victims conned into becoming drug mules.

"It's hard to distinguish what they're really up to, but they are some of the cleverest people I've ever seen,” said Soles.

The Army Vietnam veteran was acquitted after 18 months in prison and two trials.

He left a free man in a wheelchair wanting to warn his generation your age may make you the next target.

"I growed up in a different era of time and to us drugs was an aspirin, you know, that was what we all thought about it. Course, I've gotten a tremendous education since,” said Soles.