TYRONE - A suspected psilocybin mushroom-growing operation discovered by Tyrone police is one of the biggest ever found by police in Pennsylvania, state narcotics agents said Friday.
"We've never seen it in town," Tyrone Borough Police Chief John Romeo said of psychoactive mushrooms. "It's obviously been sold out of town."
The grow operation was sophisticated and large, occupying two rooms of an apartment at 1058 Pennsylvania Ave., Romeo said. It was uncovered after a domestic assault was reported by a woman who lived there with her boyfriend.
View footage of police busting a large mushroom operation
Justin H. Thompson, 26, was arrested Thursday night after he allegedly hit his girlfriend and then duct-taped her to a chair earlier in the day, Romeo said.
According to Thompson's arrest papers, he told his girlfriend that he was going to pick up their daughter and she had to stay at the apartment. The girl freed herself with a kitchen knife and escaped, police said.
When police talked to the girlfriend about the alleged assault, she told them about the mushroom operation and gave officers permission to search the apartment.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Narcotics agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Clandestine Laboratory Response Team cover a dump truck full of evidence after a raid on an alleged psychedelic mushroom operation on Pennsylvania Avenue in Tyrone on Friday.
When Tyrone Officer Cory Roland and other officers, along with the girlfriend, walked into the apartment, police said they found mushrooms in various states of growth - from spores in petri dishes to mature specimens in soil beds.
Officers left the apartment and called in agents from the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, who called in their special response team, the Blazing Arrow Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company to refill air packs and the Blair County Hazardous Materials Team to assist in decontaminating agents and equipment.
The precautions were taken because of concerns about having agents exposed to any spores disturbed by the dismantling process, BNI Supervisory Agent James Walstrom said.
"He obviously knew what he was doing," Walstrom said of Thompson, adding that growing mushrooms is a more involved process than growing marijuana.
Investigators still don't have a handle on the quantity of the psychoactive mushrooms found or the full capacity of the operation, except that it was beyond anything they've seen before, police said.
Thompson, who has no prior criminal history, appeared before Magisterial District Judge Todd F. Kelly at 8:45 p.m. Thursday on charges of simple assault, unlawful restraint and harassment and jailed in lieu of 10 percent of $10,000.
He was taken Friday from Blair County Prison and arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Fred B. Miller on possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, conspiracy charges, possession of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia charges.
"My intentions were in the right," Thompson told Miller before bail was set at $250,000 cash.
The investigation is ongoing, and Thompson won't be the only person charged in the case, Romeo said.
The dismantling of the operation shut down Pennsylvania Avenue between 10th and 11th streets for about 3 hours Friday, and BNI Regional Director Randy Feathers said the cleanup cost ranged between $15,000 and $20,000.
According to BNI agents who respond to scenes such as the one in Tyrone, it was one of the largest mushroom operations they have ever encountered, Feathers said.
Feathers credited the Tyrone officers for their work and said they followed their Operation Our Town-funded training by realizing what they had found and calling in specialists to deal with the evidence collecting and cleanup.
Police removed enough equipment and evidence to fill several trucks with some items going to the state police crime lab in Greensburg and other evidence heading to BNI's State College office, Feathers said.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.