Police Bust Dealers Supplying Mushrooms to Airmen
LAS VEGAS -- Metro detectives and federal agents have busted a magic mushroom production facility that was providing psychedelic drugs to, among others, airmen at Nellis Air Force Base.
It took months to infiltrate what lawmen describe as the largest mushroom operation in memory.
For the past eight months, the Office of Special Investigations unit at Nellis has been working closely with a special Las Vegas Metro police unit to track down the source of psychedelic drugs being sold to young airmen. What they found in a Las Vegas neighborhood was a psilocybin factory.
The two-story house in a Southeast Las Vegas neighborhood looks innocuous enough. When narcotics detectives served a search warrant last Friday, they found a sophisticated mushroom farm with two and a half pounds of psychedelic shrooms -- some dried, some still growing -- along with pounds of marijuana and a quantity of cash.
Hallucinogenic psilocybin was popularized in the 60's and has always been around, but detectives were surprised by the scope.
"In the 20 plus years I've been on the police department, it's the largest psilocybin bust I've been part of. We haven't seen anything of this size ever in Southern Nevada," said Metro Narcotics Lt. Laz Chavez.
Lt. Chavez oversees the street narcotics units, including Team Six, the squad created to go after the marijuana grow houses that have exploded in Las Vegas in the past two years. But many of the techniques used to detect urban pot farms wouldn't work for ferreting out a mushroom operation. A fungus farm is simply less obvious.
"It's a far lower profile -- less power, less water, a lot more clandestine," said an undercover detective.
This detective works on Metro's Team Eight street narcotics unit. They're a special unit, in part, because of its partners -- the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
OSI is tasked with counterintelligence, counterespionage and counter terrorism duties, but also pursues more routine threats, including drug trafficking involving airmen.
"Drug activity in the Air Force is similar to the rest of society. We're a microcosm of society," said Special Agent Troy Sullivan with Nellis OSI.
Sullivan heads up the 20-person office at Nellis, which was recently honored as the top OSI team in the nation. About eight months ago, OSI uncovered evidence that a small group of five or six Nellis airmen were attending rave parties where they used club drugs such as ecstasy and psilocybin.
Random drug tests used by the Air Force don't look for psilocybin, but when questioned, the airmen admitted what was going on.
Nellis doesn't want the public to worry that pilots on hallucinogens are flying over the community.
"These are junior airmen just enlisted -- very young. We have not seen it among pilots or aircrew," said Sullivan.
The OSI team works closely with police counterparts on cases that spill beyond the walls of Nellis. The base is ringed with bars and other businesses that cater to airmen. OSI's police powers are limited beyond the base, so a partnership with Metro is necessary, especially in this case when it became clear civilians were supplying the drugs.
FEB 19, 2010 2:08 PM
CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER GEORGE KNAPP AND PHOTOJOURNALIST MATT ADAMS
News Footage uploaded to Video Archive
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