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Supreme Court delivers final blow to Last Place on Earth

It was the last hope for Last Place. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the cases of three defendants who were convicted in 2013 of selling synthetic drugs from an infamous downtown Duluth head shop. The decision effectively en...

Haugen and Carlson
Jim Carlson talks with reporters in November 2012 as Lava Haugen looks on. On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the cases of three defendants convicted in 2013 of selling synthetic drugs. (file photo / News Tribune)
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It was the last hope for Last Place. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the cases of three defendants who were convicted in 2013 of selling synthetic drugs from an infamous downtown Duluth head shop. The decision effectively ends of the saga of the Last Place on Earth, which for years had been mired in litigation as Duluth's civic leaders, police and business community fought for the store to be shut down.
The decision preserves the 17½-year federal prison sentence being served by defiant shop owner Jim Carlson. His former girlfriend, Lava Haugen, is serving a five-year prison sentence, while his son, Joseph Gellerman, received probation. The petition to the Supreme Court was a long shot; the court typically agrees to hear arguments in only about 80 of the roughly 8,000 petitions it receives annually. But Randall Tigue, a Twin Cities attorney who has long represented Carlson, said he was hopeful the high court would take on the case after the convictions were upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January. Citing a dispute over the language of jury instructions, Tigue said the ruling is directly contrary to another opinion issued last year by the 10th Circuit, which is based in Denver. "It's an outrage," Tigue told the News Tribune on Tuesday. "There's a clear conflict among circuits. The court should've granted it." Per standard Supreme Court procedure, the denial was issued without comment or a vote tally. At least four of the eight justices would have had to vote to hear the case. A Minneapolis jury convicted Carlson on Oct. 7, 2013, of 51 charges related to the sale of synthetic drugs, product mislabeling and money laundering. Haugen and Gellerman, who worked at the store in various capacities, were convicted on lesser counts. Carlson openly sold synthetic drugs from his store, 120 E. Superior St., under names such as "Spice" and "K2," claiming that his products were legal at all times because he avoided chemicals that were specifically banned by federal authorities. However, prosecutors were successful in arguing that Carlson's products violated the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, which makes illegal all compounds that are substantially similar to controlled substances in both chemical structure and pharmacological effects. The 8th Circuit opinion, decided unanimously by a three-judge panel, upheld the constitutionality of the law as applied in Carlson's case. Carlson remains incarcerated at a low-security federal prison in Michigan, with a projected release of December 2028. Haugen is set to be released from a medical facility in Texas in February 2019. Senior U.S. District Judge David Doty also ordered a $6.5 million forfeiture order in the case, allowing federal authorities to seize the store, bank accounts and other property from the couple. After closing in July 2013, the store was targeted for redevelopment as part of the city's Old Downtown revitalization efforts, and it was sold by the federal government to Duluth-based Titanium Partners at a price of $70,000 in August 2015. In the coming months, Blacklist Artisan Ales is expected to open a brewery and taproom on the Superior Street level, while Solve Entertainment will move its escape-room operations to the second floor. The top level is being converted into a condo. "This building really changes the whole story on this block," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said at an event showcasing the redevelopment this summer.It was the last hope for Last Place.On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the cases of three defendants who were convicted in 2013 of selling synthetic drugs from an infamous downtown Duluth head shop.The decision effectively ends of the saga of the Last Place on Earth, which for years had been mired in litigation as Duluth's civic leaders, police and business community fought for the store to be shut down.
The decision preserves the 17½-year federal prison sentence being served by defiant shop owner Jim Carlson. His former girlfriend, Lava Haugen, is serving a five-year prison sentence, while his son, Joseph Gellerman, received probation.The petition to the Supreme Court was a long shot; the court typically agrees to hear arguments in only about 80 of the roughly 8,000 petitions it receives annually.But Randall Tigue, a Twin Cities attorney who has long represented Carlson, said he was hopeful the high court would take on the case after the convictions were upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January.Citing a dispute over the language of jury instructions, Tigue said the ruling is directly contrary to another opinion issued last year by the 10th Circuit, which is based in Denver."It's an outrage," Tigue told the News Tribune on Tuesday. "There's a clear conflict among circuits. The court should've granted it."Per standard Supreme Court procedure, the denial was issued without comment or a vote tally. At least four of the eight justices would have had to vote to hear the case.A Minneapolis jury convicted Carlson on Oct. 7, 2013, of 51 charges related to the sale of synthetic drugs, product mislabeling and money laundering. Haugen and Gellerman, who worked at the store in various capacities, were convicted on lesser counts.Carlson openly sold synthetic drugs from his store, 120 E. Superior St., under names such as "Spice" and "K2," claiming that his products were legal at all times because he avoided chemicals that were specifically banned by federal authorities.However, prosecutors were successful in arguing that Carlson's products violated the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, which makes illegal all compounds that are substantially similar to controlled substances in both chemical structure and pharmacological effects.The 8th Circuit opinion, decided unanimously by a three-judge panel, upheld the constitutionality of the law as applied in Carlson's case.Carlson remains incarcerated at a low-security federal prison in Michigan, with a projected release of December 2028. Haugen is set to be released from a medical facility in Texas in February 2019.Senior U.S. District Judge David Doty also ordered a $6.5 million forfeiture order in the case, allowing federal authorities to seize the store, bank accounts and other property from the couple.After closing in July 2013, the store was targeted for redevelopment as part of the city's Old Downtown revitalization efforts, and it was sold by the federal government to Duluth-based Titanium Partners at a price of $70,000 in August 2015.In the coming months, Blacklist Artisan Ales is expected to open a brewery and taproom on the Superior Street level, while Solve Entertainment will move its escape-room operations to the second floor. The top level is being converted into a condo."This building really changes the whole story on this block," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said at an event showcasing the redevelopment this summer.

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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