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Thursday, February 20, 2003 - 01:48 a.m. Pacific

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Investigators: Magic mushrooms via the Web

By The Associated Press

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Federal agents have raided an Olympic Peninsula operation that sold spores to grow “magic mushrooms,” fungi that produce an illegal high, over the Internet.

The company, Fanaticus, sold syringes filled with spores in solution along with instructions that enabled just about anyone — including the Drug Enforcement Administration — to grow mushrooms containing hallucinogenic psilocybin and psilocyn, federal prosecutors allege. Such fungi grow wild in the Northwest.

After yesterday’s raid, Robert William McPherson of Amanda Park and Steven Coggin of Neilton were charged in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute the hallucinogens, and with manufacturing psilocyn.

According to charging papers, the men operated out of a home near Lake Quinault in the rain-forest country of the Olympic Peninsula — a perfect climate for mushrooms.

Prosecutors say the spores themselves are not illegal, because they don’t contain the hallucinogenic properties of a full-grown mushroom.

But the Web site provides instruction on how to inject the spores into a jar and grow the mushrooms.

“It’s the equivalent of selling somebody the ingredients to make meth and telling them how to mix it up, and getting paid for it. You’d be guilty of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Whalley.

At $10 per syringe and $5 per instruction booklet, it appears the suspects’ worldwide sales were making them rich.

At a court hearing yesterday, McPherson said he earns $30,000 per month. Authorities say his only source of income was his thriving mail-order mushroom business.

The DEA and the postal inspector’s office have been investigating Fanaticus for years. In charging papers, DEA Agent Daniel P. Mancano describes ordering the materials and planting some of the spores in a DEA lab to make sure the process worked.

The investigation was launched in 1999 by those agencies and the National Park Service after ads for Psilocybe Fanaticus appeared on the Internet and in High Times magazine.

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