Like a real-life version of Nancy Botwin from Showtime's Weeds, Anna Sanderlin was busted earlier this year for a running a marijuana ring while acting like a typical stay-at-home mom in the upscale suburb of Scarsdale. This week, the mother of three pleaded guilty to running a drug facility that included 1,000 pot plants, and faces up to ten years in jail.
However, she is hardly the first mom to lead her own crime operation. In fact, she pales in comparison to these five tough mothers.
The queen of a highly feared drug ring, Maria "Chata" Leon was known as the "Gangster Matriarch of L.A." She illegally immigrated to America, and had 13 children, nearly half of whom helped her rule Drew Street in Northern Los Angeles during a reign of terror that saw them make a small fortune with their cocaine and methamphetamine trade. Christine Pelisek at LA Weekly wrote, "With a new baby on her hip every year or two, Leon dealt drugs and staked her claim on Drew Street, in a Bleak House stocked with guns and explosives." She served a number of prison stints, but always seemed to rebound. However, she is currently serving an eight-year sentence in federal prison, after being arrested by immigration agents in 2008 while on her way to visit a neighbor.
The "Mad Hatters" gang
Though it has not been confirmed whether any of the middle-aged and elderly women involved in this Detroit burglary ring had children, they seemed pretty darn mom-ish. In 2011, a group of five or six pretty innocuous-looking women wearing hats, "usually of the floppy, fisherman variety," wrote Deepa Seetharam at Reuters, went on a spree, stealing purses and then using the credit cards to commit fraud and drain bank accounts. For a group of post-menopausal women, they were pretty slick; one member in her 70s stole $140 out of a woman's purse when she bent over to pick up a coupon. And they were big spenders, too. Another member of the "Mad Hatters" gang reportedly stole nearly $200,000 from just one bank.
The "Millionaire Madam" was a New York tabloid's dream come true. Arrested in February 2012 for running a brothel of high-class call girls on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Anna Gristina lived a second life in a farmhouse upstate in Monroe. Over five years, Gristina, the mother of four, ran a highly successful prostitution ring, even bragging that she had law enforcement insiders to tip her off during Eliot Spitzer's notoriously tough-on-crime tenure as attorney general (oh, the irony). Ultimately, she struck a plea deal admitting guilt to only one count of prostitution, serving in total about six months in prison. She is now planning to publish a tell-all book of her famous johns to threaten her former lawyer to release the deed to her farmhouse.
Though not the toughest-sounding nickname, "The Big Female Kitten," Rafaella D'Alterio, was actually pretty feared within the Naples mob community. This mafia widow refused to stay on the sidelines after her husband, a top mafia leader, was gunned down. Three years after his death, D'Alterior herself suffered gun wounds from enemies envious of her tight control over many of the city's drug cartels. She was taken down in June of 2012 when Italian police arrested her for extortion, robbery, drug-dealing, and possession of illegal firearms. Over $15 million was seized in that raid. D'Alterio was allegedly part of the Camorra, a Naples mobster community that Italian police estimate makes more than 200 billion euros a year.
It takes a lifetime to earn the nickname the "Cocaine Godmother," but Grisela Blanco devoted almost the entirety of her years to becoming a narcotics queen. She was already a seasoned dealer in Medellín before Pablo Escobar ever set foot in town. She never shied away from her reputation for corruption and crime, even naming her youngest son Michael Corleone after the lead character in The Godfather movies. She emigrated to Miami in the 1970s, where she built a drug dynasty, but was caught by the feds in 1985. After serving 19 years, she cut a deal and was released and deported back to Colombia. However, in 2012, at the age of 69, she was shot in the head after running errands in a local butcher shop, despite apparently having a clean record since her release.