(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Andrea Sanderlin, a suburban New York mother charged with growing thousands of marijuana plants worth millions of dollars, was freed on $500,000 bond on Monday despite a federal magistrate judge's misgivings about her finances and about the friends who stepped up to co-sign for her.
Authorities say that since Sanderlin's arrest she has refused to answer questions about how she bankrolled an upscale lifestyle in Westchester County, just north of New York City, before she was arrested and jailed in May. The case immediately drew comparisons to the recent Showtime series "Weeds," about the exploits of a California woman who supported her family by dealing pot.
"For all I know, she has millions of dollars or she could have a couple hundred dollars," Judge Steven M. Gold said at the bail hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. "She hasn't worked, but she's living in Scarsdale and driving a Mercedes. I can't add that up."
The judge also complained to Sanderlin's attorney that four friends who co-signed her bond, including a hair stylist and a hair colorist who said they last saw her at a party six months ago, "don't have a heck of a lot of moral impact on your client." He told the lawyer he would have to get the signatures of her mother and other relatives by Wednesday if she wants to stay free.
Sanderlin, 45, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
She first came under suspicion after U.S. Drug Enforcement agents found that a Consolidated Edison utility account linked to her was being used to power lighting, irrigation and ventilation at a Queens warehouse, court papers said. The operation was listed under the name Fantastic Enterprises.
The agents tailed the mother of three driving from Scarsdale to Queens and back and stopped her May 20, the complaint said. After getting a warrant, they searched the warehouse and found more than 2,800 pot plants and large amounts of dried marijuana, officials said. The plants were worth an estimated $3 million on the street.
Sanderlin pleaded not guilty last week to charges of manufacturing and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and maintaining a drug-involved premise. She's expected to live at the Manhattan apartment of the grandmother of one of her children while out on bond.
If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison, though the term could be shorter under federal sentencing guidelines.