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Search warrant unearths psychedelic mushroom growing operations in west Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY — It began as an routine drug bust. On March 25, an undercover officer met Gerald Hannafin Jr. at the corner of Main Street and U.S. 19 during evening rush hour.

Hannafin, an unemployed 43-year-old with long brown hair, handed him 4.4 ounces of marijuana, according to a report. The New Port Richey officer working with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office drug task force gave him $350.

After that, the report says they met at Hannafin's house at 8852 Chilton Drive in Port Richey — 27.1 grams for $100 on April 7 and a better deal the next day for his repeat customer, 28.3 grams for the same price.

On Wednesday, the officer knocked on the door again, this time with a search warrant.

Authorities did, indeed, find marijuana inside Hannafin's home — 60 grams, a scale, grinders, rolling papers. But they also found something none of them had seen before — a psychedelic mushroom growing lab.

"We've seen meth labs, marijuana grow houses. But this is our first" mushroom lab, said Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

They called the Drug Enforcement Administration. Doll said evidence at the Chilton Drive house led deputies to the home of Hannafin's father — Gerald Hannafin Sr., a 68-year-old living at 5421 Charles St. in New Port Richey.

There, they found what the DEA is calling a "superlab." Shelves upon shelves holding hundreds of half-pint Mason jars packed with psilocybin mushrooms. Eating the mushrooms can cause hallucinations, and they are considered a "schedule one'' drug.

"It is quite unusual," said Special Agent David Melenkevitz, DEA spokesman.

Doll said the senior Hannafin had an "elaborate" system — growing the mushrooms in small jars, then transferring them to large pots once they were bigger. An evidence video shows a bag of organic soil in the lab.

The younger Hannafin's system was fledgling compared to his father's, authorities said. Junior was arrested Wednesday and charged with several counts of possessing and selling marijuana. This is his first arrest, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Neither he nor his father — who has previous arrests on marijuana charges — have been charged yet for the mushroom labs. Hannafin Sr. has not been arrested, though Doll said charges for both are forthcoming. He said a felony amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia were also found in Hannafin Sr.'s home.

Wednesday and Thursday, agents in white hazardous materials suits — masks, gloves, oxygen tanks on their backs — removed more than 2,300 mushrooms and other evidence from both homes. Hannafin Sr.'s home is a few doors down from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church — and across the street from the new priest's home. The Rev. Walcott Hunter and his family moved from New York in March.

"We hoped we could get a few months under our belts before something like this happened," said Glenna Hileman, 67, a church member who worked the bake sale table at the church's annual spring bazaar Friday.

She and other members saw the house surrounded by cruisers and the mysterious men in white jumpsuits. They surmised it was either a drug bust or a dead person.

"This is better than a dead body," Hileman said.

She said people were always coming in and out of the house. A few months ago, a "cadre" of tough-looking young men "whose underwear were prominent" parked in the priest's driveway as Hileman and others were there cleaning it out for the new priest. She took her note pad and wrote, "Please do not park in front of the rectory" and put it on the windshield.

After they were done with their business across the street, they didn't park there again.

Hileman and a dozen other church women parked at the lot Thursday evening and carpooled to Crabby Bill's in Tarpon Springs for their weekly dinner outing — which usually includes some alcohol. When they came back, 68-year-old Irene Faulhaber was walking to her car when a police cruiser came up fast toward her. She froze.

"How did he know I was drinking wine? I'm not even in my car yet," Faulhaber thought.

But the cruiser did a U-turn and went to the Hannafin home.

"That scared the heck out of me," Faulhaber said.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

'Shroom Shots

To see video of the mushroom lab, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/pascosheriff.

In other non-shroom news:

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church's annual spring bazaar continues from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. There are homemade baked goods, candles, home decor items, jewelry, clothes, Avon and Mary Kay makeup and more. The address is 5326 Charles St. in New Port Richey. The number is (727) 849-4330.

Search warrant unearths psychedelic mushroom growing operations in west Pasco 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 10:11pm]
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