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Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson (right) listens as his attorney Randall Tigue talks to the media following a 2013 court hearing in Sixth District Court in Duluth. DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE/Steve Kuchera

Report says Duluth business owner could serve up to 40 years for selling synthetic drugs

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DULUTH, Minn - Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson is facing 20 to 40 years in federal prison under the recommendation of a probation agent who conducted his presentence investigation, his attorney said Monday.

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Carlson, who remains in custody after his Oct. 7 conviction on 51 counts, and defense attorney Randall Tigue have until Friday to file their objections to the recommendations. Tigue said he would seek a substantially lesser sentence.

Sentencing probably will not occur until at least July, attorneys said.

Tigue appeared on behalf of Carlson on Monday morning in State District Court in Duluth, where Carlson is also facing a trial on nine felony controlled substance charges. Also present was Carlson’s son, Joseph Gellerman, who faces seven felony charges.

Tigue informed Judge Eric Hylden and Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets that he had just recently received the federal presentence report. Tigue said the report places Carlson’s offense level at 46, resulting in an anticipated 20- to 40-year sentence, but said he would file his objections to that.

Gellerman, who was convicted of two misdemeanors in the federal case, has not yet received his report, but sentencing guidelines call for only 0-6 months of incarceration. Carlson’s girlfriend, Lava Haugen, was also convicted of four crimes in the federal case, but is not charged in state court.

The judge and attorneys agreed to again postpone proceedings in the state case until federal sentencing is complete. A status conference is scheduled for Sept. 8. Tigue said he plans to bring a change of venue motion at that hearing.

A trial on the state charges was originally scheduled for January, but was pushed back because of delays in federal sentencing. Carlson and Gellerman have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If Carlson is sentenced to a long term in federal prison, the state charges probably will not prove to be significant. For Gellerman, though, conviction on the state charges could prove to be more serious.

The federal case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. After sentencing, defense attorneys are expected to appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The defendants were convicted by a Minneapolis jury on various counts, including drug charges, product labeling violations and money laundering, after a three-week trial. But defense attorneys have been critical of several rulings made by presiding Judge David Doty and have argued they are entitled to a new trial.

Carlson operated the Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth for three decades, but came under fire in recent years for his sales of synthetic drugs. After a prolonged legal battle, the store was closed by a judge’s order on July 19, and has not reopened since. Doty has ordered that the building, along with about $3.5 million in cash and other possessions belonging to Carlson, be forfeited to the U.S. government upon sentencing.

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