It started with a grower facing jail time who tipped off the DEA about an alleged fellow marijuana producer, Andi. Agents soon tracked down a woman who paid a $9,000-a-month electricity bill in cash for a Queens warehouse full of high-grade marijuana.
Now, Andrea Sanderlin, 45, a single mother of three, faces charges of running a pot-growing business while living in a posh Scarsdale, New York home. Her double life has drawn full-court media attention as a real-life version of the TV show, Weeds.
If anything, Sanderlin's life would appear to be more interesting than Nancy Botwin's, the character played by Mary-Louise Parker.
Agents followed Sanderlin leaving her 5,000-square-foot Spanish-style mansion each day in her gray Mercedes GL4 SUV and driving to a warehouse address registered as a corporation called Fantastic Enterprises on 57th Dr. in Maspeth, New York. They also surveilled her as she paid for large Con Ed bills and garden-supply purchases with cash.
On May 20, Sanderlin was busted after the Feds received a tip from an informant. Inside the warehouse, police found irrigation, ventilation and lighting systems along with 2,800 plants.
People describe Sanderlin as a proud mom who loves ride horses. She told acquaintances she worked as a designer and she doted on her two young daughters. She was set to be the maid of honor at a high society wedding.
Reports also uncovered tough times in her life, when she was a teenage mom of a son, now aged 27 (he lives in Brooklyn and has been arrested twice for marijuana possession). Sanderlin married when she was 18, but it didn't work out.
Authorities didn't say exactly how long ago she allegedly moved into the black market cannabis trade. The online advice site Weedportal posted a question from someone named Andi68 who was concerned about brown leaves, but nothing official came out on whether it was her.
"She’s not a villain," one friend told the Daily Beast. "She’s not diabolical. She’s just a mom. Just a regular person who for whatever reason decided this was the way she was going to make it as a single mom"
Update: On June 18, Sanderlin was charged with manufacturing and possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, and with maintaining a warehouse where marijuana was grown and processed. On June 28, she pled not guilty. On July 1, Sanderlin was released from Brooklyn federal prison on $500,000 bail. On Oct. 8, she changerd her plea to guilty, stating: "I operated a facility in which I, together with others, grew at least 1,000 marijuana plants and sold the marijuana product from the plants."
If convicted of narcotics trafficking (yes, in the eyes of federal law, pot is a narcotic), Sanderlin could spend 10 years in jail. She has had no criminal record and is described by her lawyer, Joel Winograd, as highly intelligent.
It seems like a waste of taxpayer money to put Sanderlin behind bars, but that's what the law requires. If she cooperates, perhaps they'll cut her a deal.
Who knows, maybe Sanderlin got her idea for going into the pot business from watching Weeds. Botwin first started selling marijuana, then partnered with a friend who built a grow room.
"It’s tough being a stay-at-home mom - you have to make ends meet," Weeds creator Jenji Kohan told the New York Post. She called Sanderlin's arrest "a bummer."
Ironically, Kohan's new TV series on Netflix, Orange Is the New Black, focuses on a woman charged with drug smuggling who's sent to prison.