Andrea Sanderlin’s lawyer describes his client as a “respected mother of two young children,” and as a keen equestrian who has never been in trouble with the law. Neighbors from the sleepy upmarket community of Scarsdale, NY, where Sanderlin maintains a luxurious property, and those who live across the road from her warehouse in Queens, regard the 45-year-old divorcee as “attractive” and personable. She appears, to all intents and purposes, to be a carefree “soccer mom” with a lucrative baby furniture business and a store on Fifth Avenue.
But there may be a great deal more to Andrea Sanderlin than meets the eye. Incredibly, she is alleged to be a real-life version of Nancy Botwin, the dope-dealing mom from TV’s “Weeds”. On May 20, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency raided Sanderlin’s warehouse and discovered “a sophisticated operation to grow and process marijuana.” Investigators seized “lighting, irrigation, and ventilation systems,” as well as almost 3000 plants and large amounts of dried marijuana. Authorities say that the equipment and marijuana crop is valued at more than $3 million.
According to records filed with the US District Court, a search of Sanderlin’s home – an $11,000 per month rental property – led to the recovery of about $6000 in cash, and several books on such topics as money-laundering and marijuana cultivation. A further $7,900 in rolled-up wads of cash was seized from a nanny, who was allegedly trying to get the money to Sanderlin’s boyfriend, the father of her 3-year-old daughter.
The “marijuana mom” now sits in the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, facing charges of narcotics trafficking. If convicted, she could spend at least 10 years behind bars. Sanderlin has pleaded not guilty to the trafficking charge, and lawyer Joel Winograd is attempting to work out a bail package for his client.
Authorities were alerted to the possibility of a major narcotics enterprise when an unnamed witness, who identified Sanderlin as “Andi”, told agents of a Scarsdale woman who drove a Mercedes SUV and who had been supplying other traffickers with seedlings and funds. The witness further mentioned that she had seen “Andi” at a Brooklyn gardening store making large cash purchases of equipment which could be used to grow marijuana.
It was to be this propensity for making cash payments which then led agents to Sanderlin’s doorstep. They discovered that her rent was typically paid for in cash, as was her Con Edison bill, which ran to almost $9000 per month. Agents concluded that this unusually high power demand was consistent with a hydroponics set-up. The utility told the DEA that Sanderlin had previously operated accounts for buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and had held a Queens account registered under the name “Fantastic Enterprises” since 2009.
There are many questions about Andrea Sanderlin which remain to be answered. It is not certain how long she may have been growing her fortune, or where the bulk of any profits may have gone. Officials believe that “Fantastic Enterprises” has been operating since July 2007, and according to The Smoking Gun, a woman registered as “and68i” – who is believed to be Sanderlin – was posting information about ph balances for hydroponic grows as early as March 2008.
Of greater importance, perhaps, is the need to uncover what connections Sanderlin may have with other suppliers and growing operations. Although neighbours have expressed their shock at the arrest, and Sanderlin’s nanny has claimed to have been completely ignorant of the alleged crimes, it seems highly likely that a large network of associates would be necessary to support such a lucrative venture.
A court appearance has been provisionally scheduled to take place in the next few days. Sanderlin’s guilt is still to be proven, of course, but at this stage it does seem probable that she will be swapping her riding gear and Mercedes for a less fashionable lifestyle in the not-too-distant future.