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The "Cornbread Mafia" was a group who created the largest domestic marijuana production operation in United States history. It was based in Marion, McCreary, Nelson and Washington counties in Central Kentucky. They first became known to the public by this name in June 1989 when federal prosecutors revealed that 20 men were arrested for organizing a marijuana trafficking ring that stretched across the Midwest.
Origin of the name
The name was thought to have been first used by law enforcement when they realized the scope of the organization and wanted to invoke the RICO statute, adding time to everyone's sentence and allowing the government to seize the group's assets. But in 2016, Joe Keith Bickett, one of those who started the group, released his first hand account titled "The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia: A Memoir of Sorts,", in which he said members of the group coined the term relatively early in their enterprise. Bickett's memoir was wrote while he was serving a 25-year prison term during the 1990's for the group's actions. However, Bickett's book was not released until several years after the publication of Higdon, James. The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History. by Jim Higdon, a journalist from Marion County, where the organization was most prevalent.
Beginning with "The Minnesota 17", 70 Kentuckians were accused of growing 182 tons of "cornbread" on 29 farms in 10 states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, which federal prosecutors considered to be the "largest domestic marijuana producing organization in the nation."
By 2007, the term "Cornbread Mafia" had come to mean general Southern-style corruption. There is also a song by Molly Hatchett called Cornbread Mafia (on the Kingdom of XII album) and a now-defunct band that called itself Cornbread Mafia.
The most notable member of the Cornbread Mafia was Johnny Boone, arrested in 1987 as the ringleader of a marijuana operation in Minnesota, for which he served about 15 years in prison. In June 2008, police discovered Boone growing 2,421 marijuana seedlings on his farm outside Springfield, Kentucky in Washington County, but Boone escaped arrest, under threat of a life sentence without parole because the bust would be his third federal conviction under the Three Strikes Law. Boone became a fugitive and the subject of a segment of America's Most Wanted. On Dec. 22, 2016, after eight years on the run, Johnny Boone was arrested in a small town outside Montreal, where he had been tracked by the U.S. Marshals Service.
- Joe Keith Bickett (August 24, 2016). The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia. ISBN 9781536814446.
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