NYS Attorney General files lawsuit against owner of Tebb's Head Shop chain
WATERTOWN - Following an undercover investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has filed a new lawsuit against Tebb's Head Shops for the sale of bath salts and synthetic drugs in violation of the state's labeling laws. Attorney General Schneiderman sued John Tebbetts, III of Rome, NY, who owns and operates a chain of eight head shops located throughout Central and Northern New York, for violating the state's labeling laws by selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as "bath salts" and "synthetic marijuana."
Tebb's head shops are located in Syracuse, Oneida, Utica, Cicero, Watertown and Herkimer. The lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Jefferson County. "Tebb's head shops have brazenly profited from the illegal sale and promotion of dangerous synthetic drugs and have contributed to a dramatic public health crisis in New York State," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "If these head shops are not going to play by the rules, we will use the rules to stop them in their tracks. We will not tolerate the flagrant sale of bath salts and other illegal drugs in our communities."
The Attorney General's undercover investigation, which began earlier this year, discovered Tebb's skillfully re-formatted and re-marketed synthetic products by re-labeling "bath salts" to become "glass cleaner," and even held a storewide naming competition for a new synthetic marijuana product created to avoid the April statewide ban. Today's announcement comes weeks after the Attorney General filed 12 lawsuits against 16 head shops across the state. To date, two of the lawsuits have resulted in the permanent removal of illegal synthetic drugs from the store shelves and penalties.
Just last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration also raided numerous head shops across the country, including Tebb's with the assistance of investigators from the Attorney General's office.
Attorney General Schneiderman added, "This is a clear example of various agencies, using every approach and every tool to go after these perpetrators from all angles of the law." Federal and state laws and regulations require that all consumer commodities, at a minimum, be labeled to describe net contents, identity of the product, the name and place of business of the product's manufacturer, packer, distributor and directions and warnings relating to customary use. None of the products purchased by the Attorney General's undercover investigators at Tebb's met these minimum requirements.
Although Federal and State authorities have attempted to outlaw certain chemicals and their analogs and to remove these dangerous items from commerce, their efforts continue to fall short as the chemists and producers providing the products for head shops simply alter formulas and stay ahead of the legislation.
"This sort of unabashed deception is the hallmark of a nefarious industry which calculates to sell mislabeled drugs to an unsuspecting public," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Sellers of these designer drugs are notorious for attempting to avoid criminal prosecution by keeping their products off 'controlled' substances lists. In the end, these are dangerous drugs, and you can't deal drugs over the counter by just calling them something they're not."
The Attorney General's lawsuit also charges Tebb's for the illegal sale of nitrous oxide to the public, a specific violation of the State Public Health Law. Commonly known as "Whip Its," nitrous oxide has been linked to several deaths by asphyxiation and other adverse health effects. The gas is typically used by youths who see it as an easy "high." Tebb's store signage proclaimed the availability of "Whip Its," and store clerks gave detailed instructions as to how to inhale this dangerous gas.
Between March and April of this year, a senior investigator from the Attorney General's office made eight separate investigative visits to various Tebb's locations, and purchased synthetic marijuana called "Legal Phunk" and "Care Free Potpourri" together with staff-recommended pipes to smoke the products; pills labeled "Legal Bars" and "Legal Rx" which were described as "legal" Xanax and Oxycontin; bath salts/glass cleaner called EightBallz (the street name for an eighth of cocaine or methamphetamine); a powerful hallucinogen called salvia; and illegal nitrous oxide together with crackers to open the canisters and a balloon to inhale.
The Tebb's store locations included in Attorney General Schneiderman's lawsuit are as follows:
*105 Main Street, Oneida, NY *317 West Fayette Street, Syracuse, NY *252 Genesee Street, Utica, NY *152 North Main Street, Herkimer, NY *144 Eastern Boulevard, Watertown, NY *8097 Brewerton Road, Cicero, NY *515 North Salina Street, Syracuse, NY *4200 South Salina Street, Syracuse, NY
The investigation was conducted by investigators Chad Shelmidine and Ryan Fannon under the supervision of Senior Investigator Christopher Holland, directed by Assistant Chief Antoine Karam.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General In-Charge, Deanna Nelson and Gary Brown along with Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Martin J. Mack.