LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — She was a quintessential small-town girl: sweet, gracious, naive, growing up in the small town of Bremerton, Wash., with a perfectly insulated life.
But Meili Cady had much more planned: She wanted to be an actress and set her sights on Hollywood.
Her dad begrudgingly packed her up and drove her. Life would never be the same.
“It certainly wasn’t an easy path coming here and pursuing acting,” Meili told CBS2’s Elsa Ramon.
Getting by was an understatement.
Meili picked up work as an extra every now and then, and even caught a lucky break when she landed a speaking role in the HBO series “Californication.”
The one-time appearance earned Meili some extra cash and a Screen Actors Guild card.
It seemed the doors to stardom had finally opened.
But Meili never would have guessed her path to notoriety would involve a mysterious friend named Lysette Lee.
“She had this sort of rare, regal confidence about her,” she said. “A person who was unsure of myself and unsure of my place in the world, it was a comfort to meet someone who seemed to have it all together.”
Lysette had a condo on the Westside, drove a Bentley and dressed to the nines in designer clothes. She told Meili she was an heiress to the Samsung fortune, the first detail in an impressive pedigree.
“When I got to know her initially she said, ‘Well, I went to Harvard, I went to finishing school in London, and I fly around on private planes,” said Meili.
Lysette even claimed to be a pop star in Asia, but said her powerful, disapproving parents blocked all evidence of her singing career from the Internet, except for one video she shared with Meili.
According to Meili, the video, which was footage of an Asian woman in her 20s with a lot of makeup and dancing in an elaborate costume, was very blurry and “sounded like a Korean pop song.”
“She would always say, ‘Sorry for the video quality, I pulled it off the Internet before my parents pulled it down,’ ” she said.
Despite the vast differences between the two and the countless red flags about Lysette’s grandiose stories, the two became inseparable.
They traded gifts and cards, and Lysette convinced Meili to try cocaine and made her promise she would be loyal only to her. She even suggested they take a blood oath.
“A lot of our friendship was very adolescent,” said Meili. “I think it was kind of an escape for both of us for different reasons.”
Over the years, one thing Meili couldn’t escape was her dire financial situation: the auditions had dried up, the phone wasn’t ringing and Meili had nowhere to turn.
But Lysette had an offer Meili couldn’t refuse.
“She said, ‘I’m going to pay you enough money to live, you get to travel with your best friend, and I’m going to give you time off whenever you need for action auditions or whatever you want,’ ” Meili said.
Lysette told her the job would pay $2,000 per trip and require Meili to fly with her on private jets to an undisclosed location. Meili was not to ask any questions and do exactly what Lysette told her to do.
The first task at the bank was to charter the jets. The operation, she says, was shady from the start.
“I think it was $40,000 in cash that she was having transferred in my name,” said Meili. “I didn’t have an account at the bank, but in my name to pay for the planes.”
Meili says she did this for every flight, knowing it wasn’t right, and that she could be a red flag to the IRS.
And why all of the suitcases and mystery? She never even knew where she was flying until she saw the airport signs.
But Melli admits she chose to ignore the sirens going off in her head.
“As I was on the plane, I would be like ‘OK, I get paid tomorrow, and then I can pay this bill and that bill, catch up on rent,’ ” she said. “I had so many other things I was thinking about that the bigger picture never landed on me then.”
Flight after flight, Meili flew with men she didn’t know and suitcases she eventually saw were full of money she thought Lysette was using to start a casino business, since she had once told Meili her father was also a casino mogul.
“We would land in Ohio and rent a car, and I would check into a hotel and I would be sent back,” she said. “I didn’t know where everyone else went or where the suitcases went.”
But by the fifth flight of ferrying money, things took a serious turn.
“We got into the plane at LAX to fly out to Ohio, and immediately it smelled like pot,” said Meili. “It smelled like what you would think hundreds of pounds of pot would smell like in a confined space.”
And it was. Once Meili says she learned the truth, it was too late.
“So, there were all these people who had seen me actively involved in a now very clearly criminal enterprise,” she said. “I can’t just step away. … I already felt so trapped.
“I felt like, ‘What good is it to fight this wire transfer or go on this trip? What am i gonna do?'” she added.
Five more flights, and five more massive deliveries of pot. But the 10th flight on June 14, 2010, with 13 suitcases and 506 pounds of pot, would be Meili’s last.
“We were met by about 30 DEA agents holding submachine guns and wearing bulletproof vests,” Meili recalls. “I had a machine gun aimed at my face.”
“At the time of your arrest, were you thinking, ‘This is crazy. How did i get here?’ ” Ramon asked.
“I was so far gone that I didn’t even feel that much,” she replied.
When it was all said and done, Meili was facing up to 40 years in prison per trip in what turned out to be 7,000 pounds worth of pot trafficked to a tune of more than $3 million.
After a long interrogation, the DEA let Meili go on bail. Lysette, however, wasn’t going anywhere.
“It was very obvious that she was the organizer,” said Meili. “They knew she had lied to everyone.”
Lysette Lee was sentenced to five years in prison. Meili ended up getting 30 days in federal prison and one year of house arrest.
She started a blog called House Arrest Girl, documenting her day-to-day life under house arrest , which is now in development for a comedy series. Meili also wrote a book called “Smoke” released this spring.
Meili has since given countless interviews for magazines on her life as a drug trafficker, and recently even nabbed a spot in a nationwide Toyota commercial.
She’s now making headlines, just not in a way she had ever imagined. And to those who say she’s just a criminal now trying to make a buck, Meili says money and fame are not worth the hell she’s been through.