The owner of a Watertown head shop has been dealt another severe legal blow.
A judge has decided that John Tebbetts III, the owner of Tebb's Head Shops, is responsible for selling illegal synthetic drugs.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the ruling in a news release Tuesday, saying he "won another important victory in State Supreme Court as part of his office's statewide litigation against retailers selling deceptively labeled designer drugs."
Supreme Court Justice James McClusky issued a decision late Monday, holding Tebbetts responsible for selling deceptively labeled drug products to consumers, despite denying they were meant for human consumption.
Tebbetts owns and operates a chain of eight Tebbs head shops located throughout central and northern New York.
"The evidence is clear that these items were marketed and sold for human consumption not withstanding labeling that indicated it was not for human consumption," wrote Judge McClusky.
The judge further found Tebbetts liable for the illegal sale of nitrous oxide, the circumstances of which, the judge ruled, made clear that it was being sold to be used to provide a "high" to the users as opposed to any legal use.
In further response to Tebbetts' claims that these were "not meant for human consumption," Judge McClusky stated, "The labels are not only for the protection of the end user, but also for society who must deal with the aftermath of those who do use the misbranded drugs."
"Judge McClusky has seen through the fraud being perpetrated by the industry, and his ruling will be another important tool in dismantling an insidious growth of illicit over the counter drug sales within our communities," Attorney General Schneiderman said in a news release. "The judge's order proves that, by taking a creative approach in using the state's existing labeling laws, we can get swift results to remove dangerous drugs from store shelves and hold sellers accountable for breaking the law. We will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to combat the growing and dangerous synthetic drug epidemic."
The court ruling comes after Schneiderman's office conducted an undercover investigation into head shops across New York.
The investigation revealed that head shop retailers were selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as "bath salts" and "synthetic marijuana."
Undercover investigators statewide also discovered head shop employees were promoting these dangerous drugs and advising consumers how to prepare and ingest them, Schneiderman said.
The decision and order permanently ban the sale of any mislabeled, misbranded or unapproved drugs or intoxicants, and requires Tebbetts to produce an accounting of all commodities he sold or offered for sale between January 1, 2012, and August 1, 2012, including the name of the product, the manufacturer/distributor of the product, a description of the product, the retail price of the product, and the number of units sold.
A hearing to establish the applicable penalties and costs is set for February 20.
Under New York State's labeling laws, the packaging of consumer commodities must, at a minimum, identify the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor, the common product name, the net quantity of its contents, and the net quantity of servings, uses, or applications represented to be present with appropriate directions and warnings for customary use.
On July 10, the AG filed 12 lawsuits against 16 head shop locations.
Within 36 hours of filing the lawsuits, the AG's office obtained temporary restraining orders from all 12 judges effectively removing the mislabeled products from the shelves.
Judge McClusky's decision and order permanently bans the retailer from selling designer drugs.
On August 1, the Attorney General followed up with this second lawsuit against Tebb's Head Shops for the sale of bath salts and synthetic drugs in violation of the state's labeling laws.
In December, Tebbetts pleaded guilty to federal drug and money laundering charges.
Tebbetts faces years in prison when he is sentenced April 29, with his lawyer arguing for eight years, and prosecutors seeking at least 12 and a half years.
See our earlier report
See Schneiderman's news release