Continued from Part I–
Two months later, the House approved Reagan’s anticrime package. “When Pres. Reagan signed the bill into law, he enacted the most far-reaching expansion of the federal gov’t’s law enforcement powers in its history.” The NYT reported, “The legislation, for the 1st time, …abolishes parole and completely overhauls the federal bail and sentencing systems.” “20 years later, the Supreme Court would rule whole sections of this law unconstitutional.”
In saying most of the Cornbread Mafia were behind bars in 1983 is to indicate they escaped the mandatory minimum enhanced drug sentences of 1987. Within a few years they were mostly home again and figuring out the best way to get back in business. They “quietly began organizing in rural enclaves in states like Missouri, Kansas, Michigan & Minnesota, to name a few.”
One interesting piece of the story was when Boone and his men were growing their pot in a Minn. farm (the book doesn’t say whether they bought the land or leased it) and a sheriff’s deputy stopped by looking for roving bank robbers. The man Boone had appointed to act as the farm owner got rid of the deputy fairly quickly, but the way he slowly drove away aroused suspicion. The decision was made to err on the safe side, so they cleaned up the barn and farmhouse, wiping them down for fingerprints, and the bunch all took off in different directions to await the “safe” signal before coming back. Boone took his 2 Rottweilers to a nondescript motel a ways away; holing up for a few days. There was nothing for him to do but watch TV. One show he caught was CBS’s newsmagazine, West 57th St (July 11, 1987), and the subject was the CIA smuggling cocaine into America. The storyline involved the triangle of Central American contras, the CIA, and Iran (& of course, Ollie North). Boone, and others, had always had their suspicions about a couple of Ky DEA agents. He thought they were actually drug traffickers who were working with secret approval from gov’t agencies. The newsmag interviewed drug traffickers who claimed just that. Johnny figured he finally understood what was going on back home in Ky. He also figured the War on Drugs was less about safeguarding the public and more about suppressing competition. Higdon (author) writes that, before Boone’s suspicions were actualized before the public eye, the CIA’s secret connection to this story vaporized. Neither CBS nor any other major news organization ran a follow-up to the West 57th St. allegations.
After a few days of soap operas, Johnny Boone went back near the farm, parked his truck, and watched for signs of police surveillance. After a day of this, he sent word that the coast was clear. Everyone returned, and the crop was doing great, with the expectation of a late October harvest. In mid-Oct, however, an Alberta clipper began to blow down from Canada. Johnny awoke at 4 am to find the Arctic wind had stopped. When dawn came, he found that every single marijuana plant was ice-coated. When the sun had thawed the ice, after several hours, he discovered that the plants had not died, but in fact, had been shocked into even greater levels of THC-rich resin production. It was going to be his greatest crop ever!
His exuberance was short lived. Though the pot plants lived, the surrounding corn crop, planted to hide the true cash crop, had not been as lucky. He and the crew went into crisis mode to get the plants harvested. He also called Ky for more workers asap. But it was already too late.
On Oct. 21, 1987, an agent of the Minn. Bur. of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) spotted his crop from a single-engine plane. On Oct. 23, a truck towing a horse trailer pulled slowly down the driveway to the farmhouse. Five armed police jumped out (out of respect & admiration for the author, I must tell you that he wrote- “it was a Trojan horse trailer” 😉
Here’s another humorous line, used of the round-up of Boone’s crew who scattered in all directions- “The arrested men said next to nothing in a Southern accent.” (Love that one. Maybe I can buy Higdon a beer someday. [Or, do they still make Boone’s Farm?]
As the Feds began to connect the dots between this bust (45 tons, largest seizure in Minn. history), and a web of farms in different states, the realization set in that the vast majority of marijuana sold in America was perhaps not being smuggled over the southern border!
Since Boone and the boys had been arrested on Oct. 23, he beat being tried and sentenced under the new law, effective Nov. 1, 1987. Two benefits to that- 1) they would have parole eligibility. (The Fed. Parole Board took no new cases, and was dissolved 5 years later) and, 2) they would only serve 66% of their allotted sentence, instead of 85%. (I’m doing 85% of mine. I voted for Reagan, so- thanks, me!)
The prosecution of what would become known as the “Cornbread Mafia” reached the highest levels of the DEA, meaning not only the attention of the gov’t’s top investigators and prosecutors, but by declaring the case a CCE investigation (Continuous Criminal Enterprise), it exposed any and all “kingpins” to life sentences. (Note: FBI Hdqtrs cut off its Louisville office, in a pissing contest move.)
The case never made it to trial. Boone took a plea deal of 20 yrs rather than risk the possibility of life; two got 10 yrs each; the rest got 6 mos.plus 3 yrs probabtion. By close of 1988, 78 federal prosecutions against Ky growers from in and around Marion County resulted in 56 convictions.
THE “CORNBREAD” PRESS CONFERENCE
June 15, 1989- John Bramel, editor of the weekly newspaper, the Lebanon (Ky) Enterprise, received a phone call from the U.S. Atty’s Office in Louisville. He was told of a press conference the next morning. Bramel asked the purpose of it, which the caller wouldn’t answer, but he was insistent that Bramel be there.
Bramel wondered what it was all about, and why they cared to invite the editor of a podunk weekly. “The marijuana-related publicity and negative headlines the town had received in the early part of the 1980’s seemed like ancient history” now. (Higdon)
When he entered the conference room on the next morning, a staffer took him to his seat reserved in the front row. Besides Louisville’s flagship radio station’s newperson, were all the major papers; AP, UPI, and every major news crew in the state. Bramel thought, “Why am I here and why in the middle of the front row?”
The AUSA (asst. U.S. Atty) began by uncovering a large map of the midwest beside his at the podium with 29 spots in 9 different states all with lines connecting them to Marion County.
When it became apparent that nothing they brought to the press that day was not already public knowledge, Bramel realized this was just the gov’t trying a case in the court of public opinion. He was cut off when asking his questions, but all the softball questions that served their purposes were answered. “No one”, said Bramel later, “asked why this ‘evidence’ was being given at a press conference and not to a grand jury.” It was nothing less than a guilty verdict read to the papers without an indictment.
Bramel figured that his center front row seat was all a part of the gov’t’s psy-ops campaign directed at his paper’s little town.
Johnny Boone & other ‘Cornbreaders’ saw the news reports while in prison and wondered, “Cornbread Mafia? Where’d that name come from?” They also wondered why the gov’t had only come up with 1/4 of the total pot farms they were operating.
By 2008 when the ongoing ground offensive against the CM stalled, the US Marshals turned to the “air war”, in their effort to find Johnny Boone, released a year or so previously. They shared the photos that they had confiscated, of Boone in a tropical location, with ‘America’s Most Wanted’. Higdon, who had been in contact with JB since his release, is interviewed. That interview does not make it into the actual episode. Higdon opines that the AMW producers apparently did not want “an Ivy-League-educated journalist in a Brooks Bros. suit explaining to them that Boone is a nonviolent criminal and that his community doesn’t want him captured.
In 2007, a year before he becomes a fugitive (to escape a certain life sentence for, what else, finding pot growing on his property), Higdon interviewed Boone again. “Marshals is a dirty bunch of s.o.b.’s,” Boone says. “Everybody will tell you DEA is the nastiest, dirtiest, most illegal organization, (but) Marshals is right on top.”
Higdon ends the book with a prediction. He says that “as of the deadline of this book (published 2012), Dep. US Marshal Jimmy Habib remains on the case of Johnny Boone, after 3 1/2 yrs of taxpayer-funded searching with no results. If the two of them ever meet up, Habib is going to say “Stop!” and Boone won’t because he has no respect for the man. What happens next, given the trigger-happy background of Habib, is the shooting death of Johnny Boone. Unless.”
Unless Boone is no longer facing life in prison for the crime of allegedly possessing seedlings in flowerpots.
UPDATE: [Note: Mr. BCC relies on this website’s underlords for up-to-date info, since he has no access to the intertunnel]
Johnny Boone was captured in Canada in Dec ’16, and sentenced in Dec ’17, after taking the plea deal. Boone admitted that in 2008, he conspired with others to possess more than 1,000 marijuana plants on a farm near his residence. His sentence waas 5 yrs imprisonment. At the time of sentencing he was 74 yrs old.
In a further development, inmate.com reports that James Higdon, author of The Cornbread Mafia, has agreed with the US Marshal Service to “stay the hell away” from “trigger-happy” US Marshal Jimmy Habib, and for the proceeds from the auction of his crystal ball and other fortune-telling equipment to go to the annual Charlie Stiles Memorial Beer & Bong Fest fund.