SPRINGFIELD, Kentucky (CBS/AP) Followers and fans of John Robert Boone refer to the prolific marijuana grower as the "Godfather of Grass" and the "King of Pot"; authorities who have been searching for the Kentucky farmer to no avail say it's "like trying to catch a ghost."
Federal officials have been tracking the fugitive with two pot-related priors since they found 2,400 marijuana plants on his farm two years ago, but residents and farmers southeast of Louisville who sympathize with the Santa Claus look-a-like are making Boone's capture extremely difficult.
"Even if I knew where he was, I wouldn't tell you," James "Jim Bean" Cecil, a 64-year-old Kentucky resident who spent time in prison with Boone, told reporters.
Despite the lack of cooperation, authorities continue to search for Boone who was convicted in the late 1980s of taking part in what federal prosecutors called the "largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history."
The syndicate allegedly commandeered by Boone consisted of 29 farms in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Wisconsin came to be know as the "Cornbread Mafia."
As a result, 70 Kentuckians were accused of growing 182 tons of marijuana, and Boone spent more than a decade in prison.
"He was the player. There might have been one or two close to him," said Jack Smith, a former federal prosecutor who represented Boone in the 1980s case. "I never heard of anybody who was bigger."
During his 1988 court hearing where he was sentenced to 20 years, Boone cited the area's hardship as his primary reason for turning to pot growing.
"With the poverty at home, marijuana is sometimes one of the things that puts bread on the table," Boone said. "We were working with our hands on earth God gave us."
Boone's latest troubles, which could put him behind bars for life, date to 2008, when aerial surveillance by Kentucky State Police spied marijuana plants on trailers on Boone's farm near Springfield.
A raid turned up more than 2,400 plants, but Boone had vanished like a puff of smoke.
Friends and family of John Robert Boone hope the 67-year-old remains at-large saying they believe a life sentence for a nonviolent drug is too harsh.
But former prosecutor Smith points out large-scale marijuana operations can fund other illegal activities such as prostitution or lead to violence between dealers. Large marijuana fields in Kentucky and elsewhere are sometimes booby-trapped or patrolled by armed growers.
"It's illegal for a reason," he said.
Despite being free, Boone is already serving a sentence - wondering each day if he'll be caught, and knowing he can't go home to his family.