Crime

Feds Want Denver Mushroom Dealer to Get Prison Time

The feds want Kole Milner to spend six months in prison.
The feds want Kole Milner to spend six months in prison. Anthony Camera
Although a Denver man has been pushing for probation after pleading guilty to dealing psychedelic mushrooms, federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Kole Milner to at least some prison time owing to the "aggravated" nature of the crime.

"The defendant did not just produce and sell psilocybin mushrooms; he did it while openly thumbing his nose to federal law, wielding this as a point of pride to gain publicity and notoriety for his brand. This conduct warrants a sentence of imprisonment," federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado argued in a January 25 court filing.

In September 2019, Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the south Denver apartment of Kole Milner, now 29, after reading news articles in which Milner had anonymously — but sloppily — talked about his mushroom growing and dealing. The search of Milner's apartment, which took place just four months after Denver voters approved decriminalizing the groovy fungus, proved fruitful for the agents, who walked out with 906 live psychedelic mushrooms and 291.6 grams of dried psychedelic mushrooms.

A year later, Milner pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court of Colorado to one count of possession with intent to distribute psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. Based on federal sentencing guidelines, Milner was looking at between ten and sixteen months in prison; under a plea deal with the feds, however, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Milner only get six months in prison.

But in October, Milner filed a request with the court asking to be sentenced to probation only, noting that he had no criminal history, had taken full responsibility for his crimes, and had moved back home with his parents and started learning "the car business while working with his father."

In their January 25 response to this motion — filed just days before Milner's sentencing hearing on February 1 — prosecutors acknowledged the mitigating circumstances, but added that "a sentence of probation is too lenient given the specific offense conduct," especially since the offense was not a "one-off mistake," but a "sustained period of nearly a year of criminal activity."

Crimes involving psilocybin mushrooms rarely appear before federal courts, the filing noted; when they do, it's usually because of the "egregious" nature of the crime.

"A sentence of imprisonment will show society-at-large that federal courts treat criminal activity that pushes beyond the outer bounds of typical criminal behavior, as in this case, with commensurate severity. This is true even in the case of psilocybin mushrooms, dispelling the notion that some federal drug laws are enforced less vigorously than others," the prosecutors said. They did not return Westword's request for comment; nor did Milner's attorney.

Milner's case is the highest-profile mushrooms-related prosecution in Denver since the city's residents voted in May 2019 to decriminalize personal use, possession and growth of psychedelic mushrooms. That ballot measure did not decriminalize dealing, however, and it did bind federal law enforcement authorities in any way.

Milner might never have come into contact with those authorities had he not been so open to talking about his mushroom business operations with local and national media outlets, including Westword. But the relatively small-time mushroom dealer — he had about twenty clients, according to court documents — offered plenty of hints as to his identity in the resulting stories, making identifying him easy work for DEA agents.
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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.