Roscoe Dean, former Ga. senator caught in drug smuggling sting, dies

Former Georgia Sen. Roscoe Dean Jr. Source:

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Former Georgia Sen. Roscoe Dean Jr. Source:

Roscoe Dean Jr. held several distinctions in Georgia political life. Among them, he was the state’s youngest senator when first elected in 1963 at age 28. He was also the only politician convicted of conspiring to smuggle drugs as part of a scheme to finance a bid for governor.

Dean, one of the Georgia Legislature’s most colorful characters, passed away Monday morning at age 80 after an extended illness. He was back home in Jesup, where he started a 14-year legislative career on a high note and ended it after being censured by colleagues in 1976 for, among other things, claiming expenses for legislative work while he was in the Bahamas.

Dean’s career in the General Assembly was marked by high comedy he unknowingly perpetuated, according to reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who covered him. Mischievous colleagues would write senseless speeches that he read seriously in the chamber. When he was chairman of the chamber’s Agriculture Committee, he once signed — without reading — a specious resolution urging tobacco farmers to grow blueberries instead.

His nocturnal escapades to Atlanta nightclubs made news. So did his claims for travel expenses between Atlanta and Jesup several times a day.

But Dean is probably most legendary for what turned into a personal tragedy for himself and his family: A federal court jury convicted him in 1980 of conspiring to import marijuana. The charge evolved from a scheme in which Dean allegedly promised men who he thought were drug smugglers that he would help them import “happy cigars” in return for financing for his gubernatorial campaign.

As it turned out, those supposed drug smugglers were actually undercover agents for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The subsequent legal battle bankrupted Dean’s parents, who faithfully sunk the bulk of their half-million-dollar estate into his defense.

“Our son is a political prisoner, not a law breaker,” Lilly Dean, his mother, told the AJC in 1983. Her son served two-thirds of a 5-year sentence, and was released in September 1986.

Dean, whose 1990 political comeback failed when he lost a bid to reclaim his former Senate seat, seemed to settle quietly back into hometown. The former senator, once known for his personal touch sending birthday and anniversary cards to constituents, opened what he dubbed a public relations and investment firm in a red-brick building his family owned in downtown Jesup.

Preceded in death by his parents, Roscoe and Lilly Dean, Sr., Dean also outlived his sister, Joy, and brother, Wayne. According to Rinehart & Sons Funeral Home, no memorial is planned. There will be a graveyard service at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Jesup City Cemetery, where the rest of Dean’s family is interred.

No cause of death was given.

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