Andrea Sanderlin pot case: Echoes of 'Weeds' in Scarsdale

At left is the Scarsdale home of Andrea

At left is the Scarsdale home of Andrea Sanderlin, 45, who is accused of growing thousands of marijuana plants inside a Queens warehouse, right. (June 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Christian Wade and DEA

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In a case with echoes of the Showtime hit "Weeds," a tip from an informant and the sky-high electricity usage at her Queens warehouse helped lead federal agents to a Scarsdale mother accused of growing marijuana plants with a street value of more than $3 million, according to court papers and agents' statements.

The 45-year-old mother of three, Andrea Sanderlin, was arrested May 20 by federal Drug Enforcement agents who got a tip in April from a confidential witness, identified in the criminal complaint only as "CW-1," that a marijuana grower named "Andi" lived in Scarsdale and drove a Mercedes sport utility vehicle.

Sanderlin's alleged occupation took one Scarsdale neighbor by surprise.

"It's shocking," said Charles Gibson, who has lived in the area for almost 30 years and said he does not know her. "Most people are in a normal and respectable profession."

Sanderlin's maiden name is Schmalz, but the Virginia Beach, Va., native retained the name from her first marriage, said her former father-in-law, James Sanderlin.

"We haven't seen her in years," James Sanderlin said. "They were married very young and we haven't kept in touch. They were divorced 25 years ago."

At Twin Lakes Farm in Bronxville, where Sanderlin and her 13-year-old daughter went riding about three times a week, Sanderlin "said she worked in interior design in the city," stable owner Scott Tarter said. Sanderlin owned a horse named Magi, selling it last month because she planned to purchase an equestrian sporting horse, Tarter said.

Sanderlin paid by check, her daughters were well-behaved, and there was nothing to suggest she was anything other than a regular mom with a good job, the stable owner told News12.

"I thought I was in the farming business, I guess she was in the farming business," Tarter joked.

Once the DEA tipster identified Andrea Sanderlin's photo, court papers said, investigators tracked her to the warehouse in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens and contacted Con Edison, which reported that the electric bills of her company -- running as high as $9,000 per month -- were paid in cash.

Inside the warehouse of her company, Fantastic Enterprises, they found almost 3,000 potent marijuana plants grown, with sophisticated hydroponic equipment and energy-intensive grow lights, according to Brian Crowell, DEA special agent in charge. Agents said that they also found as many as 2,000 other plants that had been harvested or were being dried for distribution.

Other neighbors on Saxon Woods Drive, the winding road where Sanderlin rents a five-bedroom mansion valued by at $2.8 million, said Wednesday morning that they had no inkling that a real-life episode of the comedy "Weeds" -- the series stars Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban mom pot dealer -- might be playing out nearby.

On Wednesday, however, one neighbor said she did notice a law enforcement agent on an apparent stakeout.

Rena Schwartzbaum, who lives around the corner from Sanderlin, said she noticed a man in an unmarked car watching the house for several hours last week.

"I went over to the car and asked the man sitting in it, 'Can I help you?' and he flashed a badge at me," she said. "A bunch of us called the Scarsdale police and they said basically, 'Yeah, we know about it.'"

Reporters and TV crews were waiting outside Sanderlin's well-appointed, two-story home as neighbors stopped to see what the fuss was about. No one answered the mansion's door on Wednesday morning.

While conducting surveillance on the warehouse, agents said they watched Sanderlin drive three different vehicles -- including the Mercedes, a black Jeep Liberty and a white Chevy van -- to and from the warehouse. On May 14, the complaint says, Sanderlin arrived at the warehouse, and "a short time later, a white male exited that location carrying a backpack and took a bus to the subway."

The next day, agents followed Sanderlin as she stopped at the warehouse and a bank, then returned home.

A document obtained by the website The Smoking Gun includes more information from the informant, indicating that the informant told investigators that Sanderlin kept seeds, supplies and cash in her Scarsdale home, and made "large cash purchases" from a gardening store in Brooklyn.

The document lists additional addresses in Brooklyn and the Bronx that were registered to Andrea Sanderlin in the past. Federal authorities said that Con Edison records show exorbitant electricity usage for those buildings as well. They said that they are investigating the possibility that Sanderlin operated multiple grow houses.

Andrea Sanderlin owed a combined $14,000 in outstanding electricity bills at those locations, documents show. The Con Edison account for the 57th Street warehouse in Queens was opened in 2009.

Andrea Sanderlin has a son, who is in his 20s, from her first marriage, and two daughters, a 13-year-old and a 3-year-old, from a second marriage.

When a message was left with attorney Joel Winograd, who represents Sanderlin, Winograd did not respond.

Sanderlin was arraigned on drug charges and sent to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where she remained Wednesday morning without bail.

With Christian Wade

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