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Thursday, February 20, 2003

2 accused of selling 'magic mushrooms' online


DEA agents, postal inspectors and park rangers arrested two Olympic Peninsula men this week after worried parents around the nation phoned in complaints that someone was selling "magic mushrooms" to their children over the Internet.

Robert W. McPherson and Steven Coggin each were charged with manufacturing the hallucinogen psilocyn and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute psilocyn and another hallucinogen, psilocybin. The two Grays Harbor County men are accused of peddling their psychedelic products on the Web and in the magazine High Times.

Authorities were alerted to the alleged conspiracy when "parents called and said they had intercepted packages going to their teenage kids," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Whalley. The packages, sent through the U.S. Postal Service, contained mushroom spores suspended in water inside blunt-tip syringe pipettes along with instructions on how to grow the mushrooms, court documents said.

After consulting with investigators from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the National Park Service, an undercover DEA agent bought spores from the defendants and successfully grew mushrooms, which were confirmed by a DEA chemist to contain psilocyn.

On two occasions -- July 17, 2000, and Feb. 13, 2001 -- the DEA agent bought spores from the company called Psylocybe Fanaticus through post office boxes in Amanda Park in Grays Harbor County and Seattle, court documents say.

Investigators conducting surveillance identified Coggin as the man who picked up incoming mail from the Seattle box twice weekly. Coggin's listed address in Neilton in Grays Harbor County is a home owned by McPherson and his wife. And the Amanda Park box holder is listed as McPherson, according to court documents.

On one occasion, investigators conducting surveillance at the Amanda Park post office observed someone who was not indicted give five U.S. mail tubs containing about 100 packages to the postal clerk.

The minimum purchase per order, according to the Psylocybe Fanaticus Web site, is $20.

Agents served a search warrant at McPherson's Amanda Park home Tuesday and found a mushroom-growing operation inside, Whalley said. At Coggin's home Tuesday, agents report finding supplies of syringes and mushroom-growing equipment. Of the three search warrants executed Tuesday, two were on homes on Lake Quinault within the Olympic National Park.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ricardo Martinez declined McPherson's request for a court-appointed public defender after he listed his monthly income as up to $30,000.

Both men face up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each offense if convicted, although sentencing guidelines would likely result in much less severe penalties. They were ordered held pending a detention hearing tomorrow.

P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or [email protected]


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