Like her fictional hero Tony Montana, Lee maximized her power over those around her. She surrounded herself exclusively with obedient sidekicks and avoided situations where people weren't prepped to be wowed by her presence, as when Cady once invited her to a party at actor Jeremy Renner's house: "Does he know who I am?" Lee asked, declining. Cady soon found their relationship shifting from friendship to master and servant as Lee tightened her leash, especially after Cady acquired a boyfriend. Lee made her break plans at a moment's notice, scrolled through Cady's phone "just to see what you've been up to," and bought Cady a three-carat diamond ring, instructing her to display it on her engagement finger – a symbol of the girls' emotional betrothal.
But the more power Cady ceded, the more Lee treated her with public disdain. "This is my little desperate whore" is how she introduced Cady to Cooper. As for lovesick Cooper, Lee arranged to "accidentally" bump into him while dining at Spago with Navarro, stoking both men's jealousies. So complete was Lee's hold that when playing Truth or Dare with Cooper and Cady one night, Lee ordered the two to make out, and they complied without hesitation. "It was cruel," remembers Cooper, who still ached for Lee's withheld affections. But no matter how much Lee's minions toed the line, she wasn't satisfied.
Then one night in 2009 while partying at Spalter's house – where Cooper was then living – a new diversion presented itself in the form of a coke-dealer acquaintance of Cooper's. David Garrett was a laid-back 27-year-old Hispanic street thug with tattoos snaking up his neck and a swagger as easy as his laugh. Before long, the heiress and the dealer were making out. "Go get me a bottle of Grey Goose," Lee instructed Cooper, throwing $100 at him. He returned to find Lee and Garrett chatting in a bedroom. He handed her the vodka bottle. "Keep the change," she told Cooper and slammed the bedroom door in his face. Their courtship was over.
Cooper stewed for weeks, then yelled at her: "I can't believe you hooked up with that thug! I'm gonna e-mail Samsung and tell them what their little heiress has been up to!" Soon afterward, according to Cooper, Lee sent a black Escalade to pick him up to hang out. Instead, Cooper says he found himself in the back seat between two tough guys in a headlock, while the driver recited into a phone, "Yes, boss, we have the package." The goons relieved Cooper of his Rolex, wallet and sneakers before leaving him by the roadside. (Lee denies Cooper's account: "Anything that comes out of that piehole is seriously damaged.") That night Cooper got a text from Lee.
Nobody talks to me like that, it read. Now you see.
"When we originally got involved, it was purely sexual, you know what I'm saying?" says Garrett now. Garrett was a grocery-store cashier's son, a Culver City High School dropout who'd gotten his GED and worked briefly at Home Depot before becoming a full-time drug dealer. Now, here he was, dating the granddaughter to Samsung – someone famous, he bragged to a friend. Their relationship seemed like proof that in America, anyone can rise to become a Somebody, so long as he strived hard enough. Garrett was intent upon impressing Lee. He told her he had a supplier who could provide him tons of pot, and that he knew of buyers in Ohio. Lee was interested – way more interested than he expected, he says.
"It was weird, 'cause you wouldn't think someone in her position would want to be anywhere near that type of lifestyle," Garrett says. "But I took from it that maybe she was one of those rich girls that was bored. I think she watched too many movies." He was wary at the idea of doing business with someone from the straight world, but it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. From his supplier in Arizona, Garrett could buy weed at $500 a pound, which would sell in Ohio for at least $1,000 a pound – a 100 percent profit margin – if only they could figure out a way to transport the pot to the Midwest. Lee's lavish lifestyle held the answer: They'd use a private jet, which was fast, discreet and would allow them to move so much weight that they'd easily recoup the $50,000-a-pop chartering cost. But Lee's participation was key. A vato like Garrett would arouse suspicion as lead passenger on a private aircraft, but not Lee, who knew no one questioned her when she acted the part of the entitled star. Lee and Garrett agreed to split their responsibilities, with Garrett overseeing the buying and selling of drugs, and Lee arranging travel logistics, including hiring a staff. She knew just the person to start with.
"I know I've been pretty much an abusive friend and taken you for granted. I want to change that," Lee told Cady. "An opportunity has come up and I'm going to be able to hire you now. Even though you are underqualified," she added, "it's something I want to do for you." The put-down glanced off Cady, who was grateful both at the prospect of making money and to still be in the graces of her best friend. She didn't know what the job was, exactly – Lee said Cady would be her traveling "personal assistant," paid $1,500 per trip – but by now, Cady was so used to relinquishing control that she didn't ask many questions. All she knew was that she'd sometimes be invited out to dinner with Lee and Garrett, then have to wait outside while the couple discussed "business" in the car. Cady took in stride the fact that Lee had yet another man in her life; Lee also told her she was seeing Leonardo DiCaprio and Channing Tatum. And then there was Navarro, with whom she'd moved into an expensive condo on the supertony Wilshire Corridor. But Lee was already looking for a place of her own, reportedly telling a real-estate agent she was a former law student and a model, e-mailing a photo of herself on the cover of a European edition of Vogue.
Lee told the same stories about her social life to her building's doorman, a stocky 22-year-old named Henry Hernandez, who also believed she'd dated soccer god Cristiano Ronaldo. Then again, Hernandez would believe anything Lee said – because they were secretly dating too. Hernandez was a gentle, churchgoing soul who'd dropped out of college to work at the Regency Wilshire for lack of funds; to his surprise, Lee had befriended him until the two became romantically involved. It was then Lee suggested that since Hernandez wasn't earning much as a doorman, he should accompany her on a brief trip as her driver, for which she'd pay $3,000. Hernandez chalked up the fee to her feelings for him, which she'd also shown by giving him a titanium ring, worn on his left hand. He was in love.
By November 2009, the scheme was up and running. Lee took care of the travel plans using a chartered-jet broker, wiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment through Cady's pitifully small bank account – something Cady expressed reservations about until Lee shut her up. "Babe, I could throw a stick out the window and hit a girl in the fucking head who'd do this in a second for what you're getting paid," she snapped. "It's fucking insulting when you don't want to work for it."
The day before a "trip," the crew would assemble at Garrett's apartment for "wardrobe," when up to 17 off-brand suitcases would arrive packed with marijuana. They'd added two more people to the roster: Lee's longtime bodyguard, Frank Edwards, 39, who'd later say he always figured himself a prop to pump up Lee's prestige since he never saw any threat from which to protect her; and Young Ko, 36, a friend of Garrett's who'd been laid off from a security company. Lee dubbed the group "Team LL" – as in Lisette Lee. Everyone would head to Van Nuys – the small airport celebrities prefer to LAX for its anonymity – and, hauling the heavy luggage, board a Gulfstream jet. Upon touchdown in Ohio, stretch limos would whisk them to a hotel. A few days later, they'd return to the airport with their suitcases considerably lighter.
As Lee's lackeys rolled onto the tarmac in a luxury-car convoy, they created a convincing illusion of a celebrity's entourage; Lee had expertly costumed them in professional dress – the men in jackets and ties, Cady in glasses with her hair worn up. No one was more convincing than Lee, however. Having cast herself as the diva, she would step out of the car – Tupac blasting from the stereo – in oversize Chanel sunglasses and a fur coat, carrying her Chihuahua and barking orders at everyone. This was more than method acting at its finest. This was the role she was born to play: a true gangster princess. "She wanted to be bigger and badder than anybody," remembers Cady.
The more Lee inhabited the role, the harsher she became to those around her. Cady asked Lee to take it easy on them. "I've seen you be so kind, I know you're a good person," Cady encouraged.
"No, I am a bitch," Lee snapped. "I shouldn't have to pretend to be something I'm not."
Two trips in November, two in December, three in January – in no time, Team LL's stage-managed drug runs became routine. It didn't take long for everyone to figure out what they were transporting, what with the odor of marijuana filling the cabin of the jet. "We need to do something about the fucking smell. This is not safe," Lee complained, after which they habitually stuffed the luggage with scented dryer sheets and doused the bags with Febreze.
Not that Lee openly discussed the contents of those suitcases with her underlings; their willingness to sit and pretend that they weren't sharing an aircraft with a quarter-ton of pot was yet another exercise in Lee's authority. But it was also as though Lee hadn't fully thought out some basic elements of the scheme. Like the flimsy cover story she provided the group: "If anyone asks, we're shooting a music video," she told them, despite having zero film equipment. There was also the element of dramatic play, as when Lee assigned everyone "double-0" code numbers so they could safely refer to one another over the phone; her own number was 007. It was as though Lee was disengaged from the reality of their actions – with no real sense of the risk, or consequences – and instead was focusing her energies upon maintaining her mastery over others. Granted, managing her peons was becoming messier, now that their cargo had become an open secret, spooking everyone, and also given the inconvenient fact that Lee had two lovers as her traveling companions – a challenge even with Lee's considerable skills.
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