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Judge sentences Last Place on Earth owner to 17 years

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Jim Carlson
Jim Carlson stands outside his head shop, Last Place on Earth, in Duluth, Minn. in this file photo.
Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune via AP, file

A Duluth head shop owner has been sentenced to 17 and a half years in federal prison for selling illegal synthetic drugs.

  A federal court jury in Minneapolis in October found Jim Carlson guilty of 51 felony counts for selling the products labeled under names like "bath salts," "incense" and "watch cleaners" at his shop, Last Place on Earth.

  U.S. District Judge David Doty also ordered Carlson to be placed on three years of supervised release after his sentence.

  Carlson sold the drugs from early 2010 until his shop was closed by a judge's order in 2013. He did not think he was selling anything illegal, said his attorney, Randall Tigue.

  "The DEA secretly determined that a number of these were controlled substance analogues, told absolutely no one about it, didn't put it on the website, and first told Mr. Carlson about it the day he was indicted," Tigue said. "It's prosecution by ambush, and it's absolutely unconscionable."

  The drugs have been blamed for several deaths nationwide, and Duluth doctors say they resulted in hundreds of emergency room visits.

  The government recommended a sentence of at least 20 years, citing a pre-sentencing investigation that estimated Carlson sold the equivalent of more than 222,000 kilograms of marijuana.

  Tigue challenged the comparison of synthetic drugs to more conventional illegal drugs to determine the sentence. He argued for a sentence of no greater than three years on the grounds his client believed he was obeying the law.

  Carlson plans to appeal his conviction.

  The jury also convicted Carlson's girlfriend Lava Haugen on four counts, and his son, Joseph Gellerman, of two misdemeanors. Haugen was sentenced to five years.