If you’ve been a racing fan for the past few decades, you likely remember Randy Lanier, the up-and-coming pro racecar driver whose career came to a spectacular screeching halt when he was jailed for life for drug trafficking. But that life sentence just got overturned and no one is sure why.
In the 1980s, young Lanier was building a name for himself in professional racing circles, winning the IMSA GTP title and landing an Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year designation. For a while, it looked as if the Davie, Florida-raised boy who married his high school sweetheart was bound for success both on and off the track. But when he formed his Blue Thunder Racing team in 1984 and began beating his far more heavily sponsored opponents left and right, some wondered just how he was funding his career.
Whispers from the pit led to an FBI investigation and soon, Lanier’s money source was revealed. Turns out he, along with partner Ben Kramer, a world champion powerboat racer, and more than a dozen others had been running a multi-state, multi-million-dollar drug empire from 1982 until their arrest in 1986. The operation’s downfall came with an indictment in the Southern District of Illinois in January 1987 and Lanier’s subsequent conviction of importing and distributing over 300 tons of Colombian marijuana worth some $68 million according to prosecutors.
But that was far from the end of the story. The case already was a bit more sensational than most given that Kramer’s father, co-defendant Jack Kramer, at the time was married to the niece of infamous mob kingpin Myer Lansky. And it got all the more lurid when, just before his scheduled sentencing and while out on $100,000 bond, Lanier disappeared. Turns out he and his new girlfriend had fled to the Caribbean, only to be arrested in Antigua later that year. Meanwhile, more serious accusations surfaced in 1987 when FBI special agent Robert Ducker testified in court that Lanier and Kramer paid a purported hit man $50,000 for a revenge murder in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Charges were never filed and Lanier’s camp denies any involvement.
By this time, Lanier reportedly had cut a deal with prosecutors and might have been able to secure a lighter sentence. But at the last minute, he backed out, refusing to testify against Jack Kramer. So, in October 1988 under the newly enacted Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute (aka the Super Drug Kingpin law), Lanier and Ben Kramer were sentenced to life without the possibility parole. The next year, the hard- and fast-living Kramer attempted an action film-style prison escape when he leapt aboard a helicopter that had dipped into a Florida prison yard. But the ballsy escape plan came crashing down – literally – when the copter swerved out of control and slammed into the ground.
Fast forward more than two decades to another plot twist – Lanier’s October 15 release from Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fla., first widely reported by Autoweek Magazine. But no one will definitively say why. All court records concerning the overturning of Lanier’s life sentence have been sealed and officials are tight-lipped. Some speculate that Lanier’s release may involve recently revised sentencing guidelines that are being applied retroactively by the US federal judicial system in an effort to lighten the load on prisons by lowering the number of Americans jailed on drug charges.
In any case, Lanier is now 60 and struggling with a bum hip, so he certainly won’t be looking to take up racing again. He won’t be far from the automotive world, however. Word has it that he’s already lined up a paid gig working for a South Florida classic car museum. He’ll be on a tight leash, though. Conditions of his release include six months in a halfway house followed by a three-year supervised release into society where he’s forbidden to drink alcohol, visit any establishment that serves alcohol or own firearms. Any slip up and he faces going back to prison to live out the remainder of his life sentence.
On the afternoon of his release, Lanier posted this message to fans on his Facebook page:
I hope this finds you all well, and enjoying the moments of your day.
For the last 27 years I have lived in prison cells with a Natural Death Sentence hanging over my neck like a hangman’s noose. Life Without Parole. Throughout these years I felt truly blessed by the love, and support of family, and friends.
This morning Oct 15 I walked out of federal prison a Free Man.
Yes! All of your love, prayers, support, and positive energy has caused the Universal Life Force to guide the justice system to reduce my sentence to time served.
This is truly an amazing event in my life, and I am very thankful to have so many friends to share it with.
Thank God! Thank You All!