KINGSTON – Three men accused of trying to sell fake hallucinogenic mushrooms have been caught blue-handed.
Police said the men were arrested after one of them sold a quarter-pound of mushrooms for $900 during an undercover drug probe. When police later pulled over the men, two had hands stained with blue food coloring.
Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. said police believe the mushrooms were purchased at a grocery store along with the blue food coloring used to dye the mushrooms and make them appear more like a potent psilocybin mushroom.
The scheme began to unravel Monday when two "non-law enforcement cooperative sources" met with the three men on a dirt road in Kingston to buy what they thought would be psilocybin mushrooms, commonly referred to as "shrooms."
The three were identified as Robert McCarthy, 23, of 7 Hilton Ave., Exeter; Anthony Palmisano, 19, of 19 M St., Hampton; and Tucker Cockerline, 18, of 44 Marshall Road, Kingston.
Police said McCarthy is the one who made the actual sale. After the alleged deal, the men left in a 1996 red Chevy Cavalier driven by Palmisano.
When police in an unmarked cruiser pulled over the three moments later, officers noticed that Cockerline and McCarthy had blue food coloring on their hands, Briggs said. When they were asked about the coloring, the two refused to talk.
Police also found food coloring and more mushrooms of the grocery store variety in the car, Briggs said.
Even though the mushrooms weren't really a narcotic drug, the three men are still in trouble. Briggs said the mushrooms were represented as hallucinogenic.
"Whether it's counterfeit or a real drug, it's still the same," he said.
McCarthy is charged with sale of a narcotic drug and theft by deception. He also faces additional charges stemming from an arrest warrant by Exeter police. Palmisano and Cockerline were each charged with conspiracy to sell a controlled narcotic drug and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
The arrests were made as part of a joint investigation by Kingston and Plaistow police into drug dealing in southern Rockingham County.
Briggs said he's seen several cases over the years where dealers have tried to sell fake illegal drugs.
But selling counterfeit drugs is risky business, police said, because unsuspecting buyers could retaliate against the dealer after discovering that they were duped.
"In the drug world, you never know exactly who you're dealing with," said Kathleen Jones, Plaistow's deputy police chief.
By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent
November 11, 2008