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Psychedelic mushrooms put Elma man in jail 3 agencies conduct raid at apartment

Police say Jarrett J. Southard is an alleged drug dealer with an uncommon appetite for growing hallucinogenic mushrooms.

At a time when many people have been outside working in their vegetable gardens, the Elma man, 24, has been toiling in his second-floor apartment, planting and harvesting mushrooms grown in large plastic storage bins, police said Wednesday.

"It's not real common that we come across quantities of mushrooms like this," said Narcotics Capt. Gregory J. Savage of the Erie County Sheriff's Office. "He had dozens of mushrooms that contain psilocybin, which causes hallucinations."

The investigation into Southard began last week when Lackawanna and West Seneca police narcotics officers received information about the operation and contacted county narcotics investigators.

As for the unemployed Southard, his main interest appeared to be money, police said.

Southard earned from $1,500 to $2,000 a month, on and off, over the last three years, selling the mushrooms and an assortment of other drugs, ranging from marijuana, ketamine -- a horse tranquilizer also known as "Special K" on the streets -- and Ecstasy in pill and powder form, investigators said.

When officers from the three agencies raided his Main Street apartment late Monday night, they say, the first thing he went for was his shotgun. But officers said they responded rapidly and prevented him from using the weapon.

"He had all kinds of growing equipment -- 21 30-gallon storage bins all over the floor of his apartment," savage said. "Thirteen bins were used for growing, and others were filled with growing material ready to go."

To accommodate the mushrooms' aversion to light, Southard covered the bins with black plastic trash bags, police said. When they were ready to harvest, they were placed in empty bins or atop a space heater to dry.

Police noted that Southard was looking to improve his indoor growing techniques.

"He had manuals on how to grow and process the mushrooms. He used petri dishes to grow a nectar to feed the mushrooms, and he stored fertilizer in his freezer," said Lackawanna Police Narcotics Officer Aaron M. Brennan.

Southard's customers were not limited to one geographic area, police said.

"These sorts of cases cross boundaries, and without cooperation, we wouldn't be as successful in solving them and making arrests," Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr. said.

The payoff for this type of cooperation among different law enforcement agencies, West Seneca Assistant Police Chief Daniel M. Denz said, is that public safety is enhanced.

"This keeps our kids safe and our community safer as a whole," Denz said.

Southard, according to Savage, remains in the Erie County Holding Center awaiting arraignment in Elma Town Court next week.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com