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Judge McClusky fines Watertown head shop owner $200K

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State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky has levied nearly $200,000 in fines against a head shop owner who sold mislabeled products that were actually synthetic drugs.

John E. Tebbetts III, Rome, owner of nine Tebb’s Head Shops statewide, including a now-closed location at 144 Eastern Boulevard, was fined $193,750 Wednesday for selling the illegal products. He also still faces fines of up to $5 million stemming from a federal action in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, for a similar set of circumstances.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman targeted Tebb’s and other retailers across the state for selling synthetic marijuana and other misbranded products that induce a narcotic effect, including “bath salts,” a synthetic drug with effects similar to methamphetamine and cocaine.

On Jan. 4, Judge McClusky ruled that various products offered by Tebb’s were illegal, but reserved decision as to the amount the business should be fined for violating state Agriculture and Markets Laws. Mr. Tebbetts appeared in court Feb. 20 for a hearing on the penalties, but when called to testify by Deanna R. Nelson, assistant attorney general in charge of the Watertown office, he refused to answer 27 questions from Ms. Nelson, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

In a decision rendered Wednesday, Judge McClusky said that, unlike in a criminal proceeding, a negative inference can be made in a civil matter regarding Mr. Tebbett’s refusal to answer questions. The judge said the attorney general proved that Mr. Tebbetts earned “a substantial profit” operating his nine stores and a distribution center, citing more than $300,000 in cash and other items were seized from his properties.

“The fact that Mr. Tebbetts had such a large amount of cash attests to the profit he made from the operation of his head shops, profit taken at the expense of not only those individuals who consume these dangerous products, but at the expense of our society as a whole,” Judge McClusky wrote.

In addition to the fine, Judge McClusky ordered that Mr. Tebbetts post a performance bond of $100,000 for any of his stores that remain in operation.

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