Five Ways to Tell If Your Neighbor Is a Marijuana Baron

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 5 2013 4:55 PM

Five Ways to Tell If Your Neighbor Is a Marijuana Baron

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A small-scale indoor growing operation

Photo by Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

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On Tuesday the website the Smoking Gun reported that a 45-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., woman named Andrea Sanderlin had been arrested and charged with running a massive marijuana growing operation out of a warehouse in Queens. Sanderlin, a mother of three, apparently told her neighbors she was an interior designer; instead, according to police, she presided over a sophisticated indoor nursery that, when raided, contained more than 1,000 marijuana plants worth over $3 million.

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Sanderlin’s neighbors were shocked, understandably. Who would think that the single mother in the McMansion next door is neck-deep in the drug trade? Is your neighbor leading a double life as a marijuana baron? Here are a few clues.

Her coffee table is littered with instruction books on how to commit crimes. The Daily News reports that, when they searched Sanderlin’s house, federal authorities found “books on money laundering and growing marijuana.” Now, of course, owning books that address controversial topics is no crime. I myself own a book about dropping off the grid called How to Disappear, and I would like to assure my creditors that I have no plans to abandon my debts and flee the country. (And, if I did disappear, I certainly wouldn’t use the alias “Omar Montez.”) But if you notice that your neighbor seems to be writing a book on money laundering, or on growing marijuana, then that is much stronger evidence.

She keeps suspicious company. Though Sanderlin’s neighbors told the Daily News that she seemed like a perfectly normal person, they did mention one possible “red flag”: her ex-husband. “It was obvious that he wasn’t a dad who put on a shirt and tie and took the 7:04 to the city,” one neighbor told the paper. It’s not entirely clear what the neighbor meant by that—did the ex-husband dress casually and take a later train?—but it is true that the company someone keeps can provide important clues about his or her lifestyle. Pay close attention and consider alerting the police if, for example, your neighbor’s husband seems fond of T-shirts with slogans like “My Wife Runs A Massive Grow Room In Queens, And All She Got Me Was This Stupid T-Shirt.”

She pays cash for things you don’t usually pay for in cash. CNN.com notes that Sanderlin apparently paid her electricity bills in cash, likely as a means to avoid having the place traced back to her. I’m all for paying cash as often as possible, but paying your electric bill in greenbacks is just weird. I don’t even know how you would do that. Keep a close eye out for this sort of behavior. When your neighbor buys Girl Scout cookies, does she peel off bills from a gigantic pile of bills in the trunk of her car? Is her living room wallpapered with money? These might be signs that the cash was not legally gained.

She’s really into horses. All the coverage of the Sanderlin story reports that she had recently become interested in horseback riding. Now, this might seem tenuous, but stick with me. What do horses eat? Among other things, grass. CONNECT THE DOTS, PEOPLE.

She is oddly specific in her criticisms of the television show Weeds. The Daily News and other outlets have noted the similarities between the Sanderlin story and the television program Weeds, about a suburban mother who becomes involved in the marijuana trade. If you’ve ever watched ER with a medical student, you know that they can’t resist nitpicking the show’s accuracy. So, if you happen to be watching Weeds with your neighbor, pay close attention to her reactions. If she is constantly muttering things like, “Well, that’s not how it really works,” or “They could be getting a much better yield with a better irrigation system,” then she might have 1,000 marijuana plants somewhere on the premises.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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