The owner of eight head shops in Central and Northern New York appeared Thursday in state Supreme Court in Watertown to answer allegations that he has been selling mislabeled products the state attorney general claims are synthetic drugs.
Appearing without an attorney, John E. Tebbetts III, Rome, owner of Tebb’s Headshop, 144 Eastern Blvd., told Judge James P. McClusky that he has no objection to an order being entered by the court forbidding him from selling the questionable products.
“The products are not being sold,” he said. “They are not being sold currently and will not be sold in the future.”
However, Mr. Tebbetts’s assurance that the products will not be sold at his stores will not end his legal entanglement that began July 25 when federal agents raided each Tebb’s location across the state. Calling it “the most egregious example of sales of misleading products” in the state, Deanna R. Nelson, assistant attorney general in charge of the Watertown regional office, who is prosecuting similar cases against 15 other businesses statewide, told Judge McClusky that her office will seek substantial civil penalties against Mr. Tebbetts. The penalties could exceed $100,000, she said.
Because Mr. Tebbetts arrived without counsel, Judge McClusky adjourned the proceedings until Sept. 27.
“I strongly advise you to get an attorney,” Judge McClusky said.
Mr. Tebbetts declined comment outside the courtroom.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has vowed to end a “crisis” in the growing synthetic drug market, suing stores in 12 counties in an attempt to have the mislabeled products removed from shelves. He has obtained agreements from several businesses to stop the sales, including Trip on the Wild Side II, 671 Mill St., whose owner, Kenneth W. Hamm, signed a consent order Wednesday agreeing to remove permanently questionable items, which went by names such as CaliCrunch, Zaney Bar, Lucky Kratom Rx and Adarol Energy. Mr. Hamm also agreed to pay $27,000 in civil penalties.
Ms. Nelson said penalties of up to $5,000 per incident can be assessed for the sale of each mislabeled product. With Mr. Tebbetts allegedly selling seven mislabeled products in eight stores, she said, fines for Tebb’s could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said suing the shop owners is a method of “holding them responsible” for products they introduce into the community.
“The primary concern of the attorney general is to get these dangerous products off the shelf,” she said.
While the attorney general is concerned with the civil side of the investigation into mislabeled products, shop owners, including Mr. Tebbetts, still could face criminal charges stemming from products allegedly sold. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents’ raids of Tebb’s shops and affiliated warehouses in July allegedly yielded several million dollars’ worth of bath salt and synthetic marijuana products and contraband.
DEA officials said agents seized 50,000 packets of bath salt products labeled as glass cleaner, 70,000 packets of synthetic marijuana and about 15 kilograms of product that had not been packaged. Also seized were about $400,000 in U.S. currency and a collection of eight vehicles and a snowmobile with a trailer, with a total value of approximately $350,000. The raid of the Tebb’s Headshop in Watertown led to the seizure of $21,000, as well as 50 packets of bath salt products and 75 packets of synthetic marijuana.
Bath salts have been known to cause users to exhibit paranoia and display violent tendencies, including extraordinary strength and immunity to pain. The U.S. attorney’s office, along with local district attorneys, is determining whether any criminal charges could result from the seizures.