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Last Place on Earth owner Carlson set to be sentenced Thursday

Jim Carlson

Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson is set to be sentenced Thursday in federal court in Minneapolis, but a last-minute motion filed by his attorney could derail those plans.

Defense attorney Randall Tigue filed a motion late Tuesday asking the court to proceed with the evidentiary portion of Thursday’s hearing but delay the sentencing phase because an expert witness the defense intended to call is not able to testify at the hearing.

As of Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge David Doty had not ruled on the motion. Prosecutors also had not filed any response to the motion. The issue could be taken up in oral arguments at the hearing Thursday.

Tigue intended to call Nicholas Cozzi, director of the University of Wisconsin’s neuropharmacology laboratory, to rebut the testimony of government witnesses. However, he informed the court that Cozzi was unable to attend the scheduled hearing because of commitments at the university.

Tigue suggested in a letter to Doty that Cozzi be allowed to testify by video deposition on Monday, and that sentencing occur sometime shortly thereafter.

The sentencing is expected to be contentious because case law for synthetic drug cases is sparse and sentencing guidelines are relatively untested. Several expert witnesses could take the stand before attorneys make their final arguments to Doty.

The presentence investigation, conducted by a federal probation agent, uses ratios to convert the quantities of synthetic products sold by Carlson to more established drugs that are routinely handled in the court system. For example, synthetic cannabinoids are converted to marijuana guidelines at a ratio of 1:167 — making Carlson responsible for distributing the equivalent of 222,286 kilograms of marijuana, according to the presentence investigation.

The defense is arguing not only the ratios used to calculate the guidelines, but also the similarity of Carlson’s products to more established drugs.

Carlson sold synthetic products out of his East Superior Street shop from late 2010 until the store was shut down by a judge’s order in July 2013. In October, a federal jury in Minneapolis found Carlson guilty of 51 crimes at his trial related to the sale of synthetic drugs at his store.

The government, in its sentencing pleadings, argued that a sentence of at least 20 or more years is warranted for Carlson. Tigue argued that probation, or no more than three years imprisonment, is more appropriate.

Carlson’s girlfriend, Lava Haugen, is also scheduled to be sentenced Thursday. The government is seeking a 10-year prison sentence, but the defense has asked for probation.

Carlson has been incarcerated at the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River since his conviction.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shortly after sentencing.