Head of Tebb’s Headshop empire sentenced to federal prison for selling bath salts
Tebb’s Headshop on North Salina St, Syracuse.
(Mike Greenlar / The Post-Standard.)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — John Tebbetts, who built the Tebb’s Headshop empire to 12 stores in two states by selling synthetic drugs, was sentenced today to more than 7 years in prison.
Tebbetts’ stores sold synthetic marijuana and “bath salts.” Police across Central New York blamed his businesses for fueling the bath salts craze that ripped through communities in 2011 and 2012.
When agents raided Tebbetts’ home and businesses, they seized seven vehicles, including a Cadillac and an RV valued at $300,000, along with $400,000 in cash.
State authorities alleged Tebbetts’ taxable sales from nine New York stores totalled $4.45 million from June 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, 2012. All of his stores are now closed.Head of Tebb’s Headshop empire sentenced to federal prison for selling bath salts Tebb’s Headshop on North Salina St, Syracuse. (Mike Greenlar / The Post-Standard.) SYRACUSE, N.Y. — John
Head of Tebbs Headshop empire sold synthetic drugs to provide for his family of eight
John Tebbetts, left,in December 2012 before he pleaded guilty in federal court to selling synthetic drugs at his 12 Tebb’s Headshops in New York and Maine. With him is his lawyer, George Hilldebrandt.
(Ellen Blalock / The Post-Standard)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — John Tebbetts was a drug addict with a felony conviction and a family to support. He started a sealcoating business, but the work was dirty and sporadic.
So Tebbetts searched for a more stable source of income, according to court papers. And he found it in head shops. Tebbetts worked six days a week – sometimes more – to make his first shop in Utica a success, according to paperwork filed by his lawyer, George Hildebrandt.
The work paid off. Tebbetts invested his profits and built a head shop empire with 12 stores in New York and Maine.
He made enough money to buy a spacious house and an RV for his family, which includes six children. The problem: His empire’s success rested on products that rode the line of legality and made people sick. He sold synthetic marijuana and “bath salts.”
Tebbetts now faces up to nine years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His empire was taken down by a nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs in 2012. Tebbetts pleaded guilty Dec. 19, 2012, in U.S. District Court in Syracuse to six felony charges of possessing synthetic drugs that were chemically similar to a controlled substance and money laundering.
Federal agents determined that the weight of the drugs they took from Tebbetts’ stores was equal to 5,000 pounds of marijuana. Tebbetts’ attorney contested that, saying the weight would have been much smaller: 24 pounds.
Tebbetts is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
Tebbetts faces separate charges from the state for failing to pay his taxes and violating state labeling laws.
He’s been in jail since April 2013. Tebbetts pleaded with the judge to allow him to stay out of prison until his sentencing so he could move his family out of the home they could no longer afford and prepare them for his imprisonment.
But Tebbetts violated his pre-trial probation when he was caught with forty narcotic pain pills that were not prescribed to him. At the time, he apologized to the judge and said he hoped to get drug treatment while in prison.
It would be at least his second time through rehab. Tebbetts went through rehab in 2005 as part of his sentence for stealing a safe, according to court documents.
Tebbetts’ lawyer filed paperwork this month asking the judge for a shortened sentence. In it, Hildebrandt wrote that Tebbetts had convinced himself that it was “edgy” but lawful to sell the bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Tebbetts thought “his actions may be skirting but not over the line,” according to the court papers.
He worked to stay a step ahead of the laws. When synthetic marijuana, called “Legal Phunk,” was banned, Tebbetts’ stores held a contest to give the product a new name. The winner: “Carefree Potpourri.” When “bath salts” became a high profile problem, Tebbetts relabeled his bath salts “glass cleaner,” according to court papers.
But Tebbetts’ motivation was to provide for his family, Hildebrandt wrote. When Tebbetts was released from prison and rehab in 2005, he fought for custody of his oldest child, which he was given despite his felony conviction, Hildebrandt wrote.
The charges against Tebbetts have forced his family to move in with his in-laws and change schools, according to court papers. Before, they had a comfortable life. When police raided Tebbetts’ home, they seized seven vehicles, including a Cadillac and an RV valued at $300,000. They also seized $400,000 in cash from his home and businesses.
As Tebbetts’ empire grew, police departments in small communities struggled to deal with an onslaught of people high on synthetic drugs. The synthetic drugs often left their users violent to both themselves and others, police said.
The village of Herkimer, population 9,000, didn’t have much of a drug problem until Tebbetts opened a store there in 2011, according to Police Chief Joseph Malone.
The problem became so intense that the village passed its own law banning bath salts and other synthetic drugs. Afterward, Malone asked Tebbetts to take the products off of his shelves.
He recalled that he told Tebbetts he was hurting people in the community.
Tebbetts’ reply, according to Malone: “We sell a
product. I can go to Wal-Mart and buy Clorox and drink it. Does that mean Walmart is responsible for my death?”
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