DEA: Soccer Mom Ran Massive Pot Grow Operation

Budding equestrian, 45, faces narcotics trafficking rap

Marijuana Plant

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Scarsdale Mom's Grow

JUNE 4--A suburban mom--and budding equestrian--has for years maintained a secret life as the alleged head of a multimillion-dollar marijuana grow operation that was finally broken up last month when federal agents raided a New York City warehouse and discovered nearly 3000 pot plants and state-of-the-art cultivation equipment, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Andrea Sanderlin, 45, was arrested two weeks ago outside a Queens building housing a “sophisticated operation to grow and process marijuana,” according to a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. During the May 20 raid, investigators seized about 2800 pot plants, “large quantities of dried marijuana,” and “lighting, irrigation and ventilation systems.”

Sanderlin was subsequently named in a criminal complaint charging her with narcotics trafficking, a felony carrying a minimum 10-year prison term. Since her arrest, Sanderlin--who allegedly ran her marijuana business through a front company called “Fantastic Enterprises, Inc.”--has been locked up at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The DEA’s arrest of Sanderlin--an attractive, divorced mother of two girls (ages 3 and 13) who lives in tony Scarsdale, New York--will likely draw comparisons to the Showtime series “Weeds,” which starred Mary-Louise Parker as the sexy young matriarch of the hydroponic pot-distributing Botwin family.

Joel Winograd, Sanderlin’s lawyer, described her as a “full-time mother” who had no criminal record and has “never been in trouble before.” Winograd added that he is seeking to work out a bail package for his client, who has pleaded not guilty to the trafficking charge. Sanderlin is pictured above during a March riding competition.

When federal agents searched Sanderlin’s home, they recovered about $6000 in cash and books on money laundering and growing marijuana, according to a U.S. District Court filing. They also seized $7900 from Sanderlin’s nanny, who was trying to sneak the cash to Sanderlin’s boyfriend (who is the father of her youngest daughter).

The raid on Sanderlin’s home came as a shock to neighbors not accustomed to the presence of armed federal agents in the leafy Westchester County village, which is among the country’s wealthiest communities. Sanderlin, who leases her Saxon Woods Road residence--four bedrooms/five bathrooms/5438 square feet--is often  seen behind the wheel of her Mercedes-Benz SUV (though she once had a Maserati coupe registered in her name).

Over the past year, Sanderlin has become a regular at Twin Lakes Farm, a horse riding academy in the neighboring town of Bronxville. She boards one horse that she owns at the facility and leases a second horse there. In March, during her first riding school competition, Sanderlin won several ribbons (as memorialized in a video uploaded to her YouTube page).

For the time being, however, Sanderlin has been forced to curb all equestrian pursuits and swap her breeches, show coat, and riding boots for Bureau of Prisons garb.

[The DEA evidence photo at left was snapped during last month’s raid at the Queens grow house allegedly run by Sanderlin.]  

The federal investigation of Sanderlin began following the April arrest of five men for their alleged roles in a marijuana grow business operating from two New York City warehouses. That organization, agents allege, was headed by Stephen Haberstroh, a 50-year-old Scarsdale resident who is a longtime friend of Sanderlin (the pair have previously shared addresses in Queens and Manhattan). Jacques Coupet, who was arrested with Haberstroh, is one of Sanderlin’s 34 Facebook friends.

One member of the busted quintet began cooperating with federal investigators and fingered Sanderlin (whom he knew as “Andi”) as the operator of “at least one marijuana grow house in Brooklyn or Queens,” according to the criminal complaint sworn by DEA Agent David Lee.

The confidential witness--who is not identified in court filings--told agents that “Andi” lived in Scarsdale, drove a Mercedes-Benz SUV, and had provided fellow traffickers with “marijuana seedling plants and large amounts of cash” that she had stored in her home.  The witness also told of seeing Sanderlin at a Brooklyn gardening store making large cash purchases of “items that could be used in a marijuana grow house.” Additionally, during visits to Sanderlin's former Manhattan apartment, the source recalled seeing “large quantities of cash stacked” in her bedroom.

In short order, agents linked Sanderlin to several industrial properties at which she had established Con Edison service. Two closed accounts--which were in arrears--had “unusually high usage when they were active,” according to a search warrant application. Agents concluded that this indicated the leased spaces were used as grow houses, which use massive amounts of electricity to power lighting units that mimic sunlight.

Investigators also discovered that Sanderlin’s Fantastic Enterprises firm had, since February 2009, an active electric account at a one-story warehouse on 57th Drive in Queens (seen below). Her bill, which was usually paid in cash, was remarkably steep--about $9000-a-month. Again, agents concluded that the high electricity tab was consistent with the warehouse being used as a hydroponic grow operation.

On several days last month, surveillance teams watched as Sanderlin drove to and from the Queens property. On May 20, as she approached the warehouse in her SUV, agents stopped Sanderlin and brought her to the building’s entrance. While she “confirmed the warehouse was hers,” investigators reported, Sanderlin “declined to provide law enforcement agents with her consent to enter the location.”

Search warrant in hand, agents subsequently raided the property and found the massive grow operation, which was divided between two separate rooms constructed inside the warehouse. Since the facility held in excess of 1000 plants, Sanderlin faces a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison if convicted of narcotics trafficking.

According to a source, agents are continuing to investigate whether Sanderlin is connected to any other grow operations, and are seeking to determine what she may have done with profits from the illegal venture.

While court filings do not address how long Sanderlin has allegedly been in the lucrative marijuana trade, online posts appear to show her hydroponic interests date back at least five years. In March 2008 messages posted to a forum, registered user “and68i” wrote about ph balances for hydroponic grows.

Sanderlin, who was born in February 1968, has used the “and68i” handle in her e-mail address, postings to other message boards (unrelated to pot) on which she signed messages “Andrea,” a YouTube account, and a horse sale web site on which she uses her full name.

In a TSG interview, Sanderlin’s longtime nanny said that she was shocked to learn of the arrest of her boss, who “kept to herself and didn’t share much with me.” Asked what Sanderlin said she did for a living, the woman replied that was never a topic of discussion. “I just know that she told me she was going to work in the morning,” the woman said. (7 pages)