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ETSU Police: Student attempts to grow illegal mushrooms

Rex Barber and Becky Campbell • May 20, 2013 at 2:06 PM

Some of the materials found in an East Tennessee State University students’ campus apartment and his car this weekend were for making hallucinogenic mushrooms, according to the school police chief.

A lawyer for Rishi Malhotra, 19, of Germantown, said separately Monday his client was using seized items for religious purposes.

Jack Cotrel, ETSU public safety chief, said Rishi gave a statement that he planned to do what Cotrel referred to as a “project” to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms.

“And he had everything he needed to grow mushrooms,” Cotrel said.

Malhotra was one of four ETSU students charged with various drug offenses this weekend.

An ETSU public safety officer checked a fire alarm at Building D of Buccaneer Ridge Apartments on campus Friday night and discovered marijuana, a drug transaction ledger and other things.

Student Elias Rasmussen, 22, 387 Hill Road, Harrogate was charged in that incident.

He was charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold and carrying or possessing a weapon on school property.

He returned to campus to collect his belongings Saturday night with a public safety escort who saw other students smoking what was believed to be marijuana on the couch in the apartment were Rasmussen had property.

Those students, Malhotra, and Brandon Buchanan, 25, 1185 W. Mountain View Rd., Apt. 1201, were detained while Wesley Miracle, whose apartment they were all in, was contacted and told to return.

Rasmussen and Miracle, 22, 288 Arthur Road, Arthur, Tenn., were charged with possession of scheduled VI drugs for resale and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Malhotra and Buchanan were charged with simple possession of schedule VI drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Malhotra lived in Building B, so police got consent to search his apartment and found some items in a dresser they thought may be explosive, including crystal pellets, propane tanks, assorted powders and fertilizers.

A pressure cooker was found in the trunk of Malhotra’s car.

Various police agencies including the FBI were called to investigate.

Nothing was determined to be intended for bomb making, Cotrel said.

Cotrel said the materials found in Malhotra’s apartment and the pressure cooker were for making mushrooms.

Malhotra has not been charged in connection with that.

Cotrel said the materials seized this past weekend are being packaged to send to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab. It could take four to six weeks to get results.

The pressure cooker was found after a drug dog alerted to the trunk.

Cotrel said nothing was found in the car that was dangerous and it was unknown what the dog found.

Cotrel said it’s possible more charges could come.

Cotrel also said the investigation into the marijuana found this weekend is continuing and more arrests are dependent upon intelligence gathered.

It had been reported that Malhotra would be under surveillance by the FBI, but Cotrel said that simply meant his name would be searched for in a database.

All four men, who are free on bond, were arraigned in Washington County General Sessions Court Monday. They have a preliminary hearing set for June 19. Malholtra has already hired attorney Tom Jessee to represent him and the other men told a judge they will hire someone to represent them.

After Malhotra’s arraignment, Jessee said some items seized from his client were cooking spices, sugar candy and herbs used for religious purposes.

“The other items seized all have to do with his Hindi religion,” Jessee said. Police “took some spices, they took some herbs,” and a small camp-type cooking burner. “There was no concern that those items were anything other than things he uses in his Hindi religion.”

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