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Published: Thursday, 10/28/2010

Toledo man seized in bust; mushrooms, by-product of ricin found in home

BY BRIDGET THARP AND MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The man at the center of a federal drug investigation in Toledo has a long history of drug abuse.

Thomas D. Wineinger, 51, of 4716 Douglas Rd. was arrested Tuesday after authorities said they seized hallucinogenic mushrooms being cultivated in his home, and less than 100 grams of cocaine.

Hours afterward, two officers in contact with substances seized from his residence - including a by-product of the toxic chemical ricin - became ill. Nine officers were sent to area hospitals as a precaution, Toledo Fire Chief Mike Wolever said.

Ricin is a toxin derived from castor beans, the same plant used to manufacture castor oil. Though ricin has surfaced as an experimental cancer treatment, the chemical can cause fever, cough, nausea, and organ damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The latest charges are among the most serious in Wineinger's decadelong drug history, court records show.

He served 30 days in prison after he was convicted in December 2007, of permitting drug abuse - a fifth-degree felony. He served 11 months in prison after October, 2002, convictions in Lucas County Court of Common Pleas of possession of cocaine and carrying a concealed weapon - both felonies.

Charges of trafficking, possession, and abuse of drugs against him were dismissed in Toledo Municipal Court between 1999 and 2005.

Thomas D. Wineinger was arrested Tuesday after authorities said they seized hallucinogenic mushrooms being cultivated in his home. Thomas D. Wineinger was arrested Tuesday after authorities said they seized hallucinogenic mushrooms being cultivated in his home.
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A team of eight people in white suits from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., carefully wiped down a pickup and car in the driveway of the Wineinger home Wednesday afternoon before combing through the residence under a federal search warrant.

A portion of Douglas Road's four lanes was closed most of the day.

Wineinger was charged Wednesday with three counts of possession of drugs and one count each of illegal manufacture of drugs, trafficking in drugs, and possessing criminal tools. He was held at the Lucas County jail in lieu of $100,000 bond. Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michael Goulding continued the case until Thursday so the suspect could hire an attorney.

Other federal weapons charges against Wineinger are pending, though the probe has focused on the illegal substances in the home, FBI Special Agent Scott Wilson said.

"This never has been a counter-terrorism investigation," he said.

Police were called to the home about 3 p.m. Tuesday by a woman who said she feared for her life, telling officers that the threat was coming from her husband.

When police arrived at the home, Wineinger allegedly tried to escape, but officers caught up with him in the driveway before he reached his vehicle, found weapons there, and detained him.

The woman came out of the house and led them to the drugs that included what police said were mushrooms and a by-product of the chemical ricin.

It took several hours and two police vehicles to transport the confiscated drugs to the Safety Building downtown, Sgt. Pete Lavey said. The confiscated drugs included "trays and trays of mushrooms."

The nine officers taken for medical treatment spent several hours in the house before two of them reported feeling ill, Sergeant Lavey said.

The fire department then staged a hazardous materials response at the Safety Building, where the drugs had been taken.

The charges against Wineinger indicate he was in possession of 100 times the bulk amount of the mushrooms.

The cultivation of mushrooms in such quantities represents a rare case for the Toledo area - the first federal agents have seen in at least five years, said Rodel Babasa, resident agent in charge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Though hallucinogenic mushrooms were more widespread decades ago, substances including oxycotin, cocaine, and heroin are known as the most problematic, he said.

"We haven't seen them on the street for quite some time," Mr. Babasa said. "They are not the drug of choice nowadays."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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