To people who didn’t know her well, Andrea Sanderlin was a fairly typical mom. She doted on her two young daughters and bragged about their endeavors to anyone who’d listen. She was to be the maid of honor in a wedding next month. She goes to dinner parties and family functions. She designs baby furniture.
That’s what she tells people, anyway.
“She’s a great mom,” one friend told The Daily Beast. “Because she’s all about being a mom.”
But the few people Sanderlin allowed inside a tight “inner circle” knew the 45-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., woman kept a loosely guarded secret that funded a lavish lifestyle: a secret straight out of the Showtime series Weeds.
Sanderlin was running a massive marijuana growing operation out of Queens, federal authorities allege in a criminal complaint released Tuesday. Agents seized 2,800 marijuana plants and large quantities of dried marijuana from the sprawling, two-room warehouse where she allegedly tended to her plants on an industrial block in Maspeth, Queens, according to documents obtained by The Smoking Gun.
Sanderlin’s arrest came as a shock to some. To others, not so much.
“I knew she was growing weed. It was just kind of known,” said one friend, who spoke on the condition that she not be named. “I had no idea how extensive it was.”
What Sanderlin didn’t hide were the apparent spoils of the operation: a leased four bedroom, five-bathroom, 5,500-square-foot Spanish-style mansion on a tranquil street in one of New York City’s wealthiest suburbs. A Mercedes GL4 sport-utility vehicle. The “biggest diamond ring I’ve ever seen in person, on a human person, outside of a museum,” according to the friend—an engagement ring given to her by her boyfriend, Vince “Rome” Garcia. The Friesian horse and newfound equestrian hobby she cultivated at Twin Lakes Farm in Bronxville, where private lessons go for $95 an hour.
“She was into plastic surgery,” the friend said. “She got a Brazilian butt lift that she actually went to Brazil for.”
While she didn’t hide her wealth, Sanderlin kept her alleged pot business under wraps, at least until an anonymous informant tipped off the New York branch of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency after the arrest of five men in a separate incident in April. In order to save himself, one of the five arrested growers ratted out Sanderlin, whom he referred to as “Andi.”
Federal agents responding to the tip eventually found Sanderlin’s posh house and her three vehicles—a white Chevy van and black Jeep Liberty, along with the Mercedes. Then they found a clue: Sanderlin was paying $9,000 a month in electricity fees to Con Edison. In cash.
“I know that large cash payments are consistent with narcotics activity,” the indictment read.
Agents tracked Sanderlin for more than a week as she went about her daily routine, driving the gray Mercedes from 193 Saxon Woods Road in Scarsdale across the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and parking in the driveway of 58-15 57th Drive in Queens, the site of the warehouse registered as a New York City corporation called Fantastic Enterprises. On May 20, the agents stopped Sanderlin, identified themselves, and searched the warehouse.
They found a “sophisticated operation to grow and process marijuana,” according to the complaint, including two rooms with “state of the art lighting, irrigation, and ventilation systems to facilitate growing the marijuana.” Agents seized 2,800 plants on the spot, along with $6,000 in cash and books on money laundering and growing marijuana at Sanderlin’s home.
The 45-year-old mother of a 27-year-old son and two daughters aged 3 and 13 is now being held without bail as she awaits trial behind bars at the Metropolitan Detention Center. If convicted of narcotics trafficking, Sanderlin faces up to a decade in prison.
Her lawyer, Joel Winograd, did not respond to requests for comment on deadline, but he told the New York Post that Sanderlin has no criminal record and is a “highly intelligent” mother of three. He described her to the New York Daily News as a “full-time mother” and said his client has pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces. Winograd has represented shoe designer Steve Madden and alleged mobster Michael Roccaforte, and landed in a bit of trouble himself in 1988, admitting to evading taxes.
Sanderlin’s friends told The Daily Beast they were stunned to learn of her arrest, though she’s no stranger to a life of hard knocks. After growing up in Virginia Beach, Va., as Andrea Schmaltz, she got pregnant at 16. The child, Jason, was raised mostly by his father, William Sanderlin, whom Andrea married at some point but divorced in 1990, according to court records, five years after graduating from Bettendorf High School. Jason is now 27 and lives in Brooklyn, and has been arrested twice for minor marijuana possession in Virginia and Maryland. Neither he nor William could be reached by The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
A longtime friend of Sanderlin’s says she’s been estranged from most members of her family for more than a decade and believes that she hasn’t spoken to her mother and father in years.
The friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Sanderlin’s relatives are “stunned” by the news but acknowledged that many of her friends and family had no idea what she did for a living.
“There’s always been a suspicion about what she does, just because no one really knew,” the friend said. “Last time I saw her, she told me she was doing interior design stuff.”
The friend told The Daily Beast that Sanderlin was “always causing trouble” as a child and was often disciplined at school. “She always had older boyfriends and did things her own way. She was not a conventional girl.”
Sanderlin’s marriage to William was the first of three marriages, and of three children by at least two different fathers. Sanderlin kept her name and moved to New York at some point, where public records show she lived at more than a dozen addresses in the ensuing decade.
A Manhattan disc jockey who asked not to be named said he met Sanderlin at a party in 2000, a year after the father of one of her daughters, now 13, was gunned down during a brawl outside the Cheetos nightclub on 21st Street and Fifth Avenue. William Quinones was 27 years old at the time; it’s unclear whether they were married when he was killed.
The DJ told The Daily Beast that Sanderlin often came to parties he threw every Sunday and that she started dating his doorman, a Croatian immigrant.
“She was lonely at the time,” the DJ said.
Sanderlin was “a cool girl,” he remembered. “Took care of her kids, seemed to be very responsible, balancing going out and having a life with making sure the kids were raised properly.”
The DJ said he went to a Thanksgiving dinner at Sanderlin’s apartment on the Upper West Side one year, and remembered how well put together it was. He never saw her smoke marijuana, he said, and she eventually broke up with his friend. “He was nothing but a babysitter, basically. She needed somebody, and [her daughter’s] father had just gotten killed. My friend was a nice guy,” he said.
Public records show Sanderlin’s recent arrest wasn’t her first brush with authorities. In 1999, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance issued a warrant for more than $21,000 in unpaid taxes, opening a tax lien that would enable the state to seize bank accounts and garnish wages. Sanderlin eventually paid the debt, and the case was closed in 2003.
In recent years, any hint of financial trouble seemed long behind her.
According to neighbor David Taubin, Sanderlin and her two daughters have been living at 193 Saxon Woods Road for about a year. The home sits on the edge of the expansive Saxon Woods Golf Course, and Taubin said it seemed “fortress-like” compared to the other homes on the block. Sanderlin’s garage and driveway were built on the side of the house, and neighbors barely noticed her coming and going, he said.
Taubin said he was shocked to allegations that his neighbor was a big-time weed grower. He never noticed anything unusual about her or her children, he said. “The only strange thing I noticed when they moved in is that someone built a modern house in Scarsdale with only a two-car garage!” he said. The suburb is well-known for its wealth, excellent public school system, and legendary SAT scores. Scarsdale High School regularly sends students off to the Ivy League.
Public records show Sanderlin associated with several businesses that may or may not exist, from Fantastic Enterprises to Raj Global Enterprises to Top Shelf Studio. Sources told the New York Daily News that she acknowledged not having held down a “legit” job since 1993.
On the Internet, Sanderlin turned her focus to horses and mothering, according to several posts she apparently made on YouTube and in online forums dealing with growing marijuana. She posted videos of her beloved horse and a 14-minute clip of her first horse show in March, where she won several ribbons, bragging, “only been riding for 6 months.” She even expressed interest in buying another horse just two weeks ago, posting a comment on another user’s YouTube page in which she asked for the seller to get in touch with her via her AOL email address.
Sanderlin’s Facebook wall included posts supporting same-sex marriage and a happy birthday note to her youngest daughter.
Last year on the web site Weedportal, a user who describes herself as “Andi68” posted: “My plants are 6 weeks into vegging and the leaves are curling and going brown, they seem to be shrinking. Hve [sic] you any suggestions to help and also what amounts of nutrients should i be using at this stage, i am currently using canna a and b.” Sanderlin used the handle Andi68 in her email address and postings to other message boards, where she signed her name as Andrea.
The friend who’s known Sanderlin for five years told The Daily Beast that despite the alleged pot growing, “she’s not a villain. 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. It sucks that it didn’t work out, but it wasn’t like a double life. It was just a life.”