An Aspiring Actress Gets Her Big Break — With a Drug Bust
Photo by Byron Purvis/Admedia/Newscom
Meili Cady's family and friends had flown in from her hometown of Bremerton, Washington, last month to attend the 29-year-old first-time author's signing at Book Soup. The reading included a photo booth in which attendees took mock mug shots, a fitting if bizarre addition considering Cady is a convicted felon.
Cady's new memoir, Smoke: How a Small-Town Girl Accidentally Wound Up Smuggling Seven Tons of Marijuana With the Pot Princess of Beverly Hills, chronicles her 2010 headline-grabbing run-in with the law. Paramount Pictures has optioned her life rights, with Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) attached to direct it as a film or TV series.
"The script is written from my perspective," Cady tells the Weekly. "I think anyone would want Jennifer Lawrence to play them. I also like Shailene Woodley. Those would be my two big picks. I try not to get too attached to an outcome. If it happens, cool. If it doesn't, that's cool too. It's at least a hell of a cocktail story."
While Cady enjoys her notoriety and the mostly positive reviews of her book, her former best friend and weed-trafficking ringleader Lisette Lee sits in a halfway house in Long Beach; she is expected to be freed from custody in September. "I've had to come to terms with the fact that I could bump into her," Cady says. "Ultimately, Los Angeles is her home too. It's not like one of us is more entitled to live here. But I'm not gonna spend my life worrying about it. It's just not worth it."
Cady arrived in L.A. from the naval town of Bremerton as a fresh-faced 19-year-old in 2005, and in five short years hit bottom. The downward slide was set in motion when Cady met Lee, a 28-year-old Korean-American socialite from Beverly Hills.
Cady had yearned for fame, but not the kind Lee would provide. She had landed small roles in movies that went nowhere, though she did get a speaking part as an extra in an episode of Californication, in which she pretended to give a blow job to one of David Duchovny's friends at the Rainbow Room. ("I was sure I wasn't the only girl in Hollywood who could say that she got into the union because of a blow job," Cady writes in her book.)
Cady had bounced around between auditions and worked the usual day jobs: retail, bartending, cater-waiting, club promoting, selling spa packages. None lasted more than a few months. She met Lee in 2006 through a mutual friend, who told Cady that Lee was a Samsung heiress. Lee's Myspace profile name was "RoyalPrincess007."
Lee wore furs, drove luxury cars and lived in a penthouse in Wilshire Corridor. She showered Cady with designer gifts: Chanel handbags and sunglasses, Louis Vuitton jewelry. Cady says she tried cocaine for the first time using Lee's Chanel mirror.
"We were extremely close," Cady says. "At times, it bordered on mutual obsession. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum but we kind of complemented each other. When she was around me, she'd kind of lighten up, be goofy and giddy. And she saw an intelligence in me that other people didn't. I had a rebellious streak that she tapped into."
Cady says Lee said she had attended Buckley, a prep school in Beverly Hills, with Paris Hilton, and that she went to Harvard at 16.
Cady, on the other hand, was still struggling financially. "I was even turned down at Jamba Juice," she recalls. "I was barely 20 when I met her. I had no frame of reference outside the small-town bubble I grew up in. I thought some of the stuff she said was so ludicrous, but I never wanted to admit it. I was viciously loyal to her. I'd feel guilty for doubting my friend."
Lee, who is serving her final few months at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin in Northern California, has not spoken publicly about Cady since a 2013 statement to ABC News. In response to ABC News' interview with Cady, Lee called her a "professional victim" and a "true Eve Harrington if ever there was one." (Lee's attorney, Jon J. Saia, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from his client.)
Cady says Lee was domineering and controlling: "She needed someone to be very submissive. It was not a healthy friendship. For whatever reason, I allowed it to be that way. Early on, we got locked into this dynamic that never changed. It only deepened, and in the wrong direction."
At first, Lee asked Cady to act as her executive assistant, handling such duties as transferring money through Cady's bank account to charter private jets. Then, Lee and her entourage — including Cady, another assistant and a bodyguard — began flying from Van Nuys Airport to Ohio with suitcases stuffed with pot.
Cady says that at first she thought the suitcases were filled with cash that was being used for the casino business. By the fifth trip, she says, she'd caught on.
She wasn't a success as an actress, but Cady did fairly well as a drug mule. She made 10 trips and was paid $1,500 each time. Thinking back on it, Cady says, the small group of mules and sellers didn't even bother concocting a cover story in case they were caught.
"Once I decided to make one trip, I pretty much sealed my fate," Cady says. "I felt I'd seen too much. I didn't have an exit strategy. I felt so removed from normal society. But I made these decisions. Some of them came from naivete, some came from willful ignorance, some came from just pure negligence. No one held a gun to my head ... until someone held a gun to my head."
That day came on June 14, 2010, when dozens of DEA officers stopped the team at Port Columbus International Airport. "If this were a movie," Cady writes in her book, "Bruce Willis would have been lowered onto the tarmac via helicopter with a knife in his teeth and a machine gun slung over his back, saying something like 'We've got these bastards' into a walkie-talkie."
In time, all six of Lee's partners were arrested and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. According to news reports, they had trafficked more than 7,000 pounds of pot, profiting $3 million.
In 2011, Lee was sentenced to six years in prison. Cady was sentenced to 30 days, which she attributes to cooperating early and having "very good legal counsel"; she received three years' probation including a year of house arrest.
Cady eventually would learn the truth about Lee. Her real name is Ji Yeun Lee. She was born in Seoul, Korea, to a Korean mother and Japanese father and was adopted by a martial arts instructor and his wife. (Lee's godparents testified in court that her biological mother is the daughter of Samsung's founder, but the company released a statement that said, "Lisette Lee is not an heiress of Samsung Electronics and is not a member of Samsung's Lee family.") She went to public school and never attended Harvard.
Even the designer gifts Lee gave Cady turned out to be knockoffs.
But in Hollywood, misfortune often turns into luck. While working as a part-time restaurant server, Cady met a producer who helped her land a literary agent.
"I know there's gonna be mixed opinions about this," she says. "A lot of people are gonna hate the book and the fact that I'm making money off of the experience. Not everyone is gonna like me, and that's pretty freeing. After the arrest, I had no grace to fall from. I had very little fear of failure."
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect that Lisette Lee has been released from prison.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.