Cornbread Mafia

The "Cornbread mafia" was the name for a group of Kentucky men who created the largest domestic marijuana production operation in United States history.[1] It was based in Marion, Nelson and Washington counties in central Kentucky. The term "Cornbread Mafia" was first used in public by federal prosecutors in a June 1989 press conference, where they revealed that 70 men had been arrested for organizing a marijuana trafficking ring that stretched across 30 farms in 10 states stretching from the Southeast into the Midwest.[2] The story was first reported in the Courier Journal Magazine in Louisville, Kentucky on October 8, 1989 and then in 2012 in the narrative non-fiction book, The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History (2012), by James Higdon.

In his two books,The Origins Of The Cornbread Mafia, A Memoir of Sorts (2016)[3] and Cornbread Mafia The Outlaws of Central Kentucky (2018)[4] author and founding member Joe Keith Bickett, chronicles his first-hand account as to how the term "Cornbread Mafia" was coined in Kentucky in the late 1970s.[5] and the groups ultimate downfall in the late 1980s.[6]

Bickett wrote his memoirs "The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia, A Memoir of Sorts" and "Cornbread Mafia, The Outlaws of Central Kentucky" while incarcerated in the 1990s but did not publish his books until several years after his release from federal prison in 2011[7]

Origin of the nameEdit

Higdon's book reports that assistant US Attorney Cleve Gambill said at the June 1989 press conference: "The organization is a highly motivated, well financed group of marijuana growers from Kentucky who are responsible for growing this vast amount of marijuana [and who] call themselves the Cornbread Mafia.".[8] Prosecutors held this press conference to lay out their case against the "Cornbread Mafia" because of the 70 men arrested in association with it, zero of them cooperated with authorities, which thwarted a Continuing Criminal Enterprise case against the suspected ringleaders. Internal documents describe the proposed CCE prosecution as "futile" because of the group's collective silence.[9]

This code of silence persisted until Higdon published his book, The Cornbread Mafia, in 2012. Joe Keith Bickett was released from prison in 2011 after serving approximately 21 years of his 25 year sentence. In 2016, Joe Keith Bickett self-published a first-hand account in his 2016 memoir titled "The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia: A Memoir of Sorts",[10][11][12] in which he provides a first-hand account how the term Cornbread Mafia was actually coined in September 1978.[13]


Between 1985 and 1989, 70 Kentuckians were accused of growing 182 tons of marijuana on 29 farms in 10 states, including Minnesota,[14] Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska,[15] Missouri and Kansas,[16] which federal prosecutors considered to be the "largest domestic marijuana producing organization in the nation."[17] By the end of 1991, prosecutors had arrested more than 100 members of the Cornbread Mafia, mostly from Lebanon, Kentucky.[18]

According to Joe Keith Bickett's second book, Bobby Joe "Redeye" Shewmaker,the leader of the Kansas crew, was the only defendant in the group's history to be indicted on a CCE charge (Career Criminal Enterprise).[19] Jimmy Bickett and author Joe Keith Bickett, along with two codefendants, were the only defendants who proceeded to a jury trial after being indicted in March 1989 in federal court in Louisville, Kentucky on distribution of marijuana charges.[20] The cornbread mafia has been brought up in the Summer Wells disappearance case.[citation needed]

Johnny BooneEdit

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[21] and the subject of a segment of America's Most Wanted.[22][23]

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. He was brought to the United States in April 2017. On December 19, 2017, Boone pled guilty to one count of a superseding information.[24] Boone was represented by attorneys C.Thomas Hectus, Henry Stephens and Elmer J. George. Author, Joe Keith Bickett was employed as law clerk/paralegal for Mr. George and worked as a legal aid for the attorneys on the Johnny Boone case. Contrary to the life sentences he was facing, Boone was sentenced to fifty-seven months by Chief District Court Judge, Charles Simpson, III, the same judge who sentenced the Bickett brothers, Jimmy and Joe Keith, in 1990.[25]

Boone was sentenced to serve his time at FCI Elkton, a low security federal prison in Ohio. In the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Elkton prison became notorious for being overrun with the disease. Due to health risks, Boone's attorneys requested in May 2020 he be released; which was granted on June 3. [26]

Obama clemencyEdit

President Barack Obama granted clemency to three men from Marion County, Kentucky; all were either directly or indirectly connected to the Cornbread Mafia.

In November 2011, President Obama granted a pardon to Les Berry, an original member of the alleged "Cornbread Mafia," who was caught in Wisconsin driving a get-away car with six other Kentucky men fleeing a marijuana farm in Minnesota in late October 1987.[27]

In March 2015, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of 22 drug offenders, including Francis Darrell Hayden, a Marion County native. Hayden had been serving a life prison sentence for marijuana cultivation because he was convicted three times for illegal cultivation, triggering the Three-strikes law. His last bust was in Michigan in 1998 for growing nearly 19,000 marijuana plants, after similar busts in 1980 and 1990.[28]

In December 2016, President Obama granted clemency to an additional 231 incarcerated people, including another man from Marion County: Aaron Glasscock. Glasscock was arrested as a college student in the late 1990s as part of a drug trafficking ring operated by his father. In 2000, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, just two months shy of his pre-med degree. Glasscock's commutation was announced just a few days before Johnny Boone was captured in Canada.[29]

In January 2017, Higdon reported on these Obama clemencies of Cornbread men for Politico, suggesting that Obama could pardon Johnny Boone before he left office in "The Big Statement Obama Could Make on Legalizing Pot."[30]

Cornbread Mafia in media and popular cultureEdit

For much of the 1980s, the Cornbread Mafia was reported upon by photojournalist Steve Lowery[31] of the Lebanon Enterprise, many of whose photographs are in Higdon's book.[32]

By 2007, the term "Cornbread Mafia" had come to mean general Southern-style corruption.[33] There is also a song by Molly Hatchet called Cornbread Mafia (on the Kingdom of XII album), and a now-defunct band that called itself Cornbread Mafia.[34]

In a 2015 interview with Terry Gross, Graham Yost, the creator and show runner of the FX series Justified, said, "Honestly, we didn't know a lot about the Dixie Mafia. It also goes by the name The Cornbread Mafia. But we, you know, started poking around. Frankly, probably, we started with reading Wikipedia like anyone else..."[35]

A series of unsolved murders in Bardstown, Kentucky have been incorrectly attributed to the Cornbread Mafia.[36]

In 2016 Texas singer/songwriter, Cody Jinks produced and released his album "Black Sheep" which featured a song about Johnny Boone simply titled "Johnny." In April 2018, Nashville recording artist, Sweepy Walker, the grandson of beloved Grand Ole Opry legend Billy Walker released "Cornbread Mafia" - a feel-good, good-time bar song about local legends John Boone "them Bickett boys, and too many more to mention.[37]

In June 2018, singer/songwriter Tyler Childers held a benefit concert for Johnny Boone at Gravely Brewery in Louisville, telling an interviewer from the Louisville Eccentric Observer: "I read the book [‘Cornbread Mafia’] that Jim Higdon came out with, and I got some friends from over my way that were friends with Johnny — people that I hold in high regard, and people that hold him in high regard. I figured that I would try to help in some way.”[38]

Legal cannabisEdit

A cannabis breeder in Colorado has created a strain of marijuana called Cornbread.[39]

In 2018, Bickett and Boone, a CBD company based in Marion County became the first CBD company to produce hemp to make CBD products grown by original members of the Cornbread Mafia. Bickett and Boone not only sells CBD products but also grows the hemp to make their products on their family farms near Raywick, Kentucky which is primarily grown by original members of the Cornbread Mafia. Bickett and Boone CBD products are the only CBD products endorsed by the original members of the Cornbread Mafia, including Joe Keith Bickett and Johnny Boone. Their products are sold nation-wide and on their website, Bickett and Bickett and Boone prides themselves in producing a CBD product from "seed to seal."[40]

In 2019, Cornbread Mafia book author James Higdon co-founded Cornbread Hemp, which sells CBD (cannabidiol) products in retail outlets in the United States.[41] Cornbread Hemp was featured in the November 2019 print edition of High Times magazine.[42] In January 2020, Cornbread Hemp became the first brand from Kentucky to offer USDA certified organic CBD products.[43] In May 2020, Higdon was featured in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Warren Bobrow, the Cocktail Whisperer; and Cornbread Hemp products were featured in Whole Foods Magazine. [44][45]

Further readingEdit

  • Bickett, Joe Keith (24 August 2016). The Origins Of The Cornbread Mafia: A Memoir Of Sorts. ISBN 978-1536814446.
  • Bickett, Joe Keith [[Cornbread Mafia The Outlaws Of Central Kentucky]], ISBN 9781725563636
  • Higdon, James (3 September 2013). Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History. ISBN 978-0762788439.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ James Higdon, The Cornbread Mafia, Lyons Press 2012, p. x
  2. ^ James Higdon, The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History, Lyons Press, 2012, p. 268
  3. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, The Origins of The Cornbread Mafia, A Memoir of Sorts, ISBN 9781536814446
  4. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, Cornbread Mafia The Outlaws Of Central Kentucky, ISBN 9781725563636
  5. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia, A Memoir of Sorts, ISBN 9781725563636
  6. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, Cornbread Mafia The Outlaws of Central Kentucky, ISBN 9781725563636
  7. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, The Origins of The Cornbread Mafia, A Memoir of Sorts. p.5
  8. ^ James Higdon, The Cornbread Mafia, Lyons Press, 2012, p. 268
  9. ^ James Higdon, The Cornbread Mafia, Lyons Press, 2012, p. 263
  10. ^ Joe Keith Bickett (August 24, 2016). The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia. ISBN 9781536814446.
  11. ^ Lebanon Enterprise
  12. ^ "WHAS 11:Great Day Live". Retrieved 2016-12-09.
  13. ^ Bickett, Joe Keith (24 August 2016). The origins of the Cornbread Mafia : a memoir of sorts. [Self published]. ISBN 978-1-5368-1444-6. OCLC 968131235.
  14. ^ "Pioneer Press: Search Results".
  15. ^ "Schenectady Gazette - Google News Archive Search".
  16. ^ "Lawrence Journal-World - Google News Archive Search".
  17. ^ "Kentucky New Era - Google News Archive Search".
  18. ^ "The Nevada Daily Mail - Google News Archive Search".
  19. ^ Joe Keith Bickett, Cornbread Mafia, The Outlaws of Central Kentucky, p 230
  20. ^ Joe Keith Bickett,Cornbread Mafia, The Outlaws of Central Kentucky, p.255
  21. ^ "The Springfield Sun News, Sports, Entertainment and information for Springfield, Kentucky". Archived from the original on 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  22. ^ "Fugitives | John Boone | Case". AMW. Archived from the original on 2012-08-13. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  23. ^ "Kentucky man to be featured on "America's Most Wanted"". Archived from the original on 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  24. ^ "Cornbread Mafia leader Johnny Boone pleads guilty in federal court". The Courier Journal. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  25. ^ The Lebanon Enterprise, Johnny Boone is Sentenced, March 21, 2018
  26. ^ Andrew Wolfson, Courier-Journal 'Godfather of Grass' begs for release from prison where 9 men have died from COVID-19 May 21, 2020.
  27. ^ James Higdon Interview with James Higdon, WFPL News, December 4, 2011
  28. ^ David Downs Obama Commutes Sentence of Prisoner Serving Life for Pot East Bay Express, April 1, 2015
  29. ^ James Higdon The Big Statement Obama Could Make on Legalizing Pot POLITICO Magazine, January 5, 2017
  30. ^ James Higdon The Big Statement Obama Could Make on Legalizing Pot POLITICO Magazine, January 5, 2017
  31. ^ "Lexington Herald Leader: Search Results".
  32. ^ James Higdon, The Cornbread Mafia, Lyons Press, 2012, p. 110
  33. ^ "TOP STORY >>Sherwood showdown". The Arkansas Leader. 2007-03-07. Archived from the original on 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  34. ^ Text by Tim RobertsPhotos by James Moses. "Cornbread Mafia". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  35. ^ Terry Gross interview with Graham Yost Fresh Air, NPR, March 26, 2015
  36. ^ Benjamin H. Smith Are Multiple Unsolved Murders In This Kentucky Small Town Somehow Connected? Oxygen Crime News, July 19, 2018
  37. ^ Lebanon Enterprise, April 25, 2018, Nashville recording artist sings about Cornbread Mafia and Kentucky Girl
  38. ^ Scott Recker Tyler Childers Interview LEO Weekly, December 19, 2018
  39. ^ Cornbread by Rare Dankness
  40. ^ Bickett and Boone Full Spectrum CBD
  41. ^ Lawrence Smith, "Cornbread Mafia author launches new venture: Cornbread Hemp", WDRB, April 2, 2019
  42. ^ Hot Products, NFL Issue, p. 114 High Times Magazine, November 2019
  43. ^ Jessica Bard, Cornbread Hemp is First CBD Company in Kentucky to Achieve USDA Organic Certification WDRB News, January 13, 2020
  44. ^ Warren Bobrow, Solving Problems In Creative Ways: Jim Higdon, Co-Founder Of Cornbread Hemp Forbes, May 15, 2020
  45. ^ Whole Foods Magazine staff, New Product Spotlight: Organic Hemp Extract Oils Whole Foods Magazine, May 19, 2020