Law Enforcement

Denver Mushroom Dealer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

Kole Milner pleaded guilty in federal court on September 28 to dealing psychedelic mushrooms.
Kole Milner pleaded guilty in federal court on September 28 to dealing psychedelic mushrooms. Anthony Camera
A Denver mushroom dealer who got busted by the feds after describing his business in multiple news articles last year has pleaded guilty in federal court to selling psychedelic mushrooms.

Kole Milner, 28, appeared in the U.S. District Court of Colorado on September 28 to enter a guilty plea after striking an agreement with federal prosecutors, who are recommending that Milner be sentenced to only six months in prison. Based on federal sentencing guidelines, Milner had been looking at ten to sixteen months in prison.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 7. Milner's attorney declined to comment on the deal. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado did not return a request for comment.

The most noteworthy exchange during today's virtual change of plea hearing came when Judge R. Brooke Jackson asked Milner if he was guilty of the crime of possession with intent to distribute psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.

Milner didn't answer the question directly, and instead said that he was pleading guilty to what he had been charged with.

Jackson, unsatisfied with that answer, allowed for a recess so that Milner could talk with his attorney. When court came back into session, Jackson said, "I know that you think that the law should not be what it is. I think that you believe that what you did should be perfectly okay, but that was not my question." Jackson followed up by asking if Milner was guilty of the crime.

Milner, who has been out on bond, then responded, "Yes, I am."

Milner starting selling psychedelic mushrooms in November 2018. In September 2019, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration knocked on the door of his apartment, in the first high-profile mushroom bust in Denver since voters had decriminalized personal possession, use and growth of psychedelic mushrooms in May 2019.

And the backstory of how DEA agents and Milner collided at that moment is pretty darn trippy.

In August 2019, DEA agents began following leads related to a local mushroom dealer. Articles in publications ranging from the Denver Post to Westword had revealed key details about a man who said he had been dealing psychedelic mushrooms since well before decriminalization in Denver.

After voters approved decriminalization, the man not only wasn't concerned with being busted, but was willing to talk about it. "I'm not going to have to worry at all," the man, who at least asked to go by the pseudonym "Douglas," told Westword in May 2019.

But the Denver ballot initiative did not decriminalize dealing, and what it did decriminalize affected only local law enforcement, not state cops or the feds.

Douglas also told Westword that he worked in the cannabis industry. In other news stories, the anonymous mushroom dealer appeared in photos and videos wearing a Happy Fox Edibles shirt, which had a logo that included a cartoon fox.

Douglas is actually the middle name of Kole Milner. DEA agents were able to plug the name "Douglas"
into a Colorado cannabis industry database and found Milner, among others; they were able to narrow the list and identify Milner through pictures posted to social media in which he was wearing the same shirt.

Milner also had a public Venmo account in which he engaged in transactions that had payees writing descriptions like "Magic" or simply using a bunch of mushroom emojis. Milner's Venmo account included a payment to the person who'd designed the Happy Fox Edibles shirt, as well.

Big mistakes.

Milner's trail led DEA agents to his apartment, where they found 906 live psychedelic mushrooms and 20.42 ounces of dried mushrooms, as well as black bags with the Happy Fox Edibles logo that Milner had used to package mushroom purchases.

Milner was charged but not locked up. He was finally summoned to court this past July, when he pleaded not guilty. He was released on bond.

While Milner's case has gotten plenty of coverage, his dealing was apparently connected to a similar bust that happened just two months after the DEA knocked on the door of his Denver apartment. Except this bust was handled by local law enforcement.

Westword recently spoke with a man busted in November 2019 for dealing mushrooms. The man, who spoke with Westword on the condition of anonymity, was able to strike a friendly plea deal with District Attorney Beth McCann's office, one that allows him to avoid time in jail and also to have a single felony charge wiped completely from his record, as long as he successfully finishes eighteen months of probation.

The man came to the attention of the Denver Police Department after Milner referred a client to him, the man says.

As it turns out, the DPD had been tracking Milner since February 2019, after the vice unit received a complaint that Milner was growing mushrooms. A month later, an undercover police officer reached out to Milner. That May, another undercover Denver police officer bought mushrooms from Milner.

The client that Milner referred to the other dealer was an undercover cop: Jessica DelaRow, a DPD detective. Milner had been unwittingly talking to DelaRow before he sent her over to the other dealer, who sold mushrooms to her a few times over the course of the next few months. The man's last deal to DelaRow ended with sirens blaring and Denver police officers swarming near his apartment building last November.

Although local law enforcement went after this second mushroom dealer, Denver officials say that they're following the requirements of the ballot initiative.

McCann is abiding by the initiative "in both the letter and the spirit," according to a spokesperson in her McCann's office. The Denver Police Department is also in compliance with the initiative, as its officers are treating psychedelic mushrooms as a lowest law-enforcement priority, per its stipulations, according to Kelli Christensen, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Public Safety.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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