Legendary pot grower Johnny Boone, leader of Kentucky’s ‘Cornbread Mafia,’ back in U.S.

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John “Johnny” Boone, the leader of Kentucky’s “Cornbread Mafia,” once the nation’s largest domestic marijuana producing organization, is back in the United States after eight years on the lam.

Boone, who was once featured on “America’s Most Wanted,” was apprehended in Canada in December 2016 and was ordered detained Wednesday after appearing in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont, about 90 miles south of Montreal.

He had been extradited to the U.S. and will be transported to Louisville soon, according to Kraig LaPorte, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Burlington. Wendy McCormick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Louisville, said it could be a week or two before he is flown to Louisville on a U.S. Marshal Service flight.

Boone, 73, a legendary figure in central Kentucky, faces charges on a 2008 indictment that accused him of growing and distributing marijuana on his farm in Springfield, where more than 2,400 marijuana plants allegedly were found by Kentucky State Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The government is also trying to force him to forfeit cash, vehicles, a handgun and an AR-15 rifle.

He fled after a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he faces up to life in prison if convicted.

►EARLIER COVERAGE: ‘Cornbread Mafia’ fugitive in court

Federal prosecutors in Vermont requested his detention, saying he faces a long prison term and at age 73 has a strong incentive to flee. The motion also noted that he’d lived illegally in Canada for eight years, “which alone renders him a flight risk.”

The Cornbread Mafia, a group of mostly Kentuckians, pooled their money, machinery, knowledge and labor to produce $350 million in pot seized in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin, prosecutors said in 1989.

The organization operated on isolated farms in nine Midwestern states, some of which were guarded by bears and lions, and by workers described by the government as a “paramilitary force.” Boone’s exploits were the subject of a book, “Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate’s Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History,” by Kentucky freelance writer James Higdon.

U.S. Attorney Joe Whittle said in 1989 that marijuana had been seized at 29 sites, including 25 farms outside Kentucky. Sixty-four Kentucky residents were charged, 49 of whom lived in Marion County.

The detention motion says Boone’s criminal history extends to 1969 and includes a 1985 conviction for marijuana possession with intention to distribute, for which he was sentenced to five years, and another conviction for unlawful manufacture of 1,000 plants or more, for which he was sentenced to 20 years and paroled in 1999.

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189 or awolfson@courier-journal.com.

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