The last time I went to a federal building in Ohio, I was escorted in handcuffs by an army of DEA agents carrying submachine guns and enough evidence to send me to prison for forty years. Now I’m escorted by my attorney to meet with the prosecutor to explain how the hell I ended up on a private jet with a quarter ton of weed packed into thirteen suitcases.
The conference room is stale and windowless, much like the interrogation room I was in for four hours while officers grilled me about my friendship with Lisette Lee, the alleged heiress to the Samsung electronics fortune. She was my best friend for four years in Los Angeles, the first close friend I made in town. We were ride or die “partners in crime.” We brought new meaning to the phrase. Growing up, I had a tight-knit group of best friends in Washington, and we shared a lot of friendship bracelets, but none like I shared with Lisette. We both took that ride in the DEA’s SUV, where we sat side by side in matching handcuffs.
I take a seat next to Mike Proctor, my attorney, on one side of a long conference table. Two DEA agents and a prosecutor sit across from us. I’m wearing the same black blazer and figure-hugging pencil skirt I wore when we were arrested, but today the ensemble hangs on me. Staring down a decades-long prison sentence can do a lot to curb a girl’s appetite. I set aside my black quilted Chanel tote, a gift from Lisette in better times, and remind myself to breathe. Mike gives me a reassuring nod. We’ve spent the past four weeks preparing for this moment.
The prosecutor, Tim Pritchard, reminds me of a male mannequin with an athletic build and a poker face. This is the first time I’ve met him, but I met Agent Heufelder, a stern no-nonsense DEA agent, when he put handcuffs behind my back before a trip to DEA headquarters last month. The second agent is here as a formality. I met him on the other end of a submachine gun at our last arrival at the private airport in Columbus.
Tim Pritchard and the DEA agents have pens and pads of paper in front of them, ready to take notes during the interview, and a stack of police documents for reference. Tim explains the terms of the proffer session and asks me if I understand and agree to speak under these terms. After I agree, I feel the energy on the other side of the conference table shift. Tim and Agent Heufelder seem wound up and ready to begin firing questions at me. Mike and I both know that the first thing they will ask, and the thing they will continue to ask until they get a straight answer, is whether or not I knew it was weed in the suitcases. No one will believe that I didn’t know. Mike is a brilliant attorney and a good man, and he’s helped me prepare for how to handle this moment.
As Tim opens a manila folder in front of him, I take a dry swallow of air. I know what I have to do. “If it’s okay, I’d like to say something before we begin,” I say. Tim looks up from his folder, then closes it. Both DEA agents stare intently at me.
“Go ahead,” Tim says, narrowing his focus on me as he folds his hands over the conference table.
With everyone’s full attention, I begin slowly. “I’m here today because I was involved in an operation that moved thousands of pounds of marijuana from Los Angeles to Ohio using private planes.” I pause for a moment, stifled by the sound of my own voice. The words seem so surreal coming from my mouth. I still can’t believe that what I’m saying is true.
“I want you to know that I knew what I was doing. I knew it was marijuana in the suitcases, and I did it anyway. The stupid decisions I’ve made have disappointed not only myself, but my family and all my loved ones as well. What’s done is done, and I can’t take any of it back. I can’t go back in time and make better decisions. The only thing I can do is try to start making good ones now and help you with your investigation as much as I can. That’s what I’m here to do.” When I finish, I look around the table at Tim Pritchard and the DEA agents. Each one of their postures has changed. The heat that was building in the room has begun to diffuse. They appear to be relieved.
“Well,” Agent Heufelder says as he exchanges a glance with the prosecutor, “I’d say that’s a good way to start the meeting.” He picks up a pen and leans forward with his elbows on the table. “All right, Meili,” he says. “We’re ready to listen to you. Why don’t you begin by telling us why you moved to Los Angeles?”