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Watertown head shop owner faces up to 20 years in prison, $5.25 million fine

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An Oneida County man who operated a head shop in Watertown faces up to 20 years in federal prison and potentially more than $5 million in fines after admitting Wednesday that he possessed controlled substances, including “bath salts,” with the intent to distribute them.

John E. Tebbetts III, 33, Floyd, who operated the now-closed Tebb’s Headshop at 144 Eastern Blvd., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, to possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues and engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from specified unlawful activity, according to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian.

Bath salts, the synthetic drug similar to methamphetamine and cocaine, drew attention from local law enforcement and health officials due to the adverse health effects the products had on their users. The products had circumvented state and federal regulators by being labeled as inedible products such as butterfly attractant and plant food, and “not for human consumption.”

At its peak this summer, Samaritan Medical Center reported it had five emergency room calls per day from people who had used the products.

As part of his plea, Mr. Tebbetts admitted he owned several head shops in New York and Maine and that he used a warehouse in Rome to store controlled substances. He admitted that he possessed synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as “Spice” or “K2,” and that he marketed and sold it as “Legal Phunk.”

He also admitted to possessing controlled substance analogues, including synthetic cathinones commonly called bath salts, which he intended to distribute under the names “Clear” and “Amped,” intending that the substances be consumed by people. Bath salts have been known to cause users to exhibit paranoia and display violent tendencies, including extraordinary strength and immunity to pain.

“The dangers to public health and to police officers responding to those under the influence of bath salts that we witnessed this past summer has been significantly reduced due to the hard work and commitment of (law enforcement),” Mr. Hartunian said.

Mr. Tebbetts also admitted that he used $157,000 in proceeds from the illegal substances to buy a 2012 motor home. As part of his plea, he has agreed to forfeit the motor home, as well as five other vehicles, a 2004 Toyota Scion, 2009 Cadillac CTS, two 2005 GMC trucks and a 2009 Arctic Cat snowmobile and trailer. He also will forfeit $314,000 in cash.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on each of five drug counts and up to 10 years’ imprisonment on a single money-laundering count. He faces a fine of up to $5.25 million.

Mr. Tebbetts is also the subject of an action brought in state Supreme Court in Watertown by the attorney general. In that matter, it is alleged he violated state Agriculture and Markets Law by selling mislabeled products that he knew were illegal synthetic drugs.

In July, Mr. Tebbetts attempted to defend his stores and his products’ safety and told the Times that he prevented intoxicated people from purchasing products, which led to barring “more people than any people in their right mind would.”

Some of the products that have been sold at the Watertown store include bath salts under the labeling of “glass cleaner,” and synthetic marijuana labeled as “carefree potpourri.”

Times Staff Writer Gordon Block contributed to this report.

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