NEW YORK – A mother of three from a ritzy New York City suburb pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges she operated a secret, sophisticated pot-growing operation worth millions.
Andrea Sanderlin lived in a big house in Scarsdale in wealthy Westchester County, took horse-riding lessons and drove a Mercedes Benz -- and, prosecutors said, secretly grew more than a thousand marijuana plants at a building in Queens.
Federal prosecutors have compared the divorcee to a Colombian drug lord. The accusations also drew comparisons to the Showtime series "Weeds," starring Mary Louise-Parker as a suburban California widow who sells and later grows marijuana to support her family.
Sanderlin's attorneys cautioned Friday not to compare the case to the TV show.
"This is not life imitating art," said Corey Winograd. "This is real life."
Sanderlin appeared in federal court in an oversized navy prison uniform, her long blond hair combed neatly.
Winograd and his father and law partner, Joel, said Sanderlin would be out on bail early next week, and requested extra time from the judge to talk to prosecutors about whether a plea deal was possible. Sanderlin was indicted on two charges, manufacturing and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and maintaining a drug-involved premises.
"She's very sad because she's separated from her children," Joel Winograd said. "When she gets out she'll be in a better frame of mind."
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents found that a Con Edison account linked to Sanderlin in Queens was using an "unusually high amount of electricity." The complaint said the power was being poured into lighting, irrigation and ventilation at the warehouse, which was listed under the name Fantastic Enterprises, according to the complaint against her.
Agents tailed Sanderlin driving from Scarsdale to Queens and back and stopped her May 20, the complaint said. After getting a search warrant, they went into the warehouse and found more than 2,800 pot plants and large amounts of dried marijuana, officials said. The plants were worth $3 million on the street, authorities said.
If convicted, Sanderlin could be sentenced to 10 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines would likely produce a shorter term.
Her lawyers said her children were staying with relatives. They said she has a 3-year-old daughter but didn't mention the ages of her other two children.
"She's entitled to the presumption of innocence," Corey Winograd said.
Her next court date is July 15.