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Candace Renalls and Mike Creger, Forum News Service, Published April 03 2013

Embattled Duluth businessman accused of selling synthetic drug reopens shop

DULUTH, Minn. - Jim Carlson, owner of the Last Place on Earth, was released from St. Louis County Jail about 4 p.m. Tuesday after posting $450,000 bail.

By 6:30, he had reopened the downtown Duluth store that had been closed since it was raided by police Friday afternoon. Carlson and his son, Joseph Gellerman, had been in custody since their arrests by Duluth police after officers conducted a search and said they found illegal synthetic drugs.

Carlson opted for a higher bail without conditions — $450,000 — instead of $100,000 bail that included conditions that he not sell any synthetic drugs while the case goes through court. Judge Sally Tarnowski also set two bail options for Gellerman — $150,000 without conditions or $50,000 with conditions. Gellerman bailed out earlier Tuesday.

Both Carlson and Gellerman paid the higher bails without conditions, which were posted by a bail-bonding company. Generally such bonding companies require 10 percent cash down payments.

As a line formed at the store Tuesday night, Carlson continued to defend what his store sells by citing customers who claim health benefits from synthetics.

“They swear by my products,” he said.

He also said he would clear his store of all synthetics if marijuana were made legal in Minnesota.

“This stuff would all be gone,” he said.

When asked about the horror stories police and health professionals have told about people overdosing on his products, he listed other products that are legal and misused, including energy drinks, alcohol and methadone. He repeated that his cause is for legalizing marijuana.

“We’ve got to be more tolerant,” he said.

Carlson said he wasn’t worried about customers going without synthetics for the days the shop was closed because “they can get this stuff anywhere.”

He said his shop has become popular because he keeps his prices low. He admitted that he has cornered the market in Duluth. Other places that sell synthetics are scattered across the Iron Range.

The chemically laced incense he sells goes for $50 to $60 for 10 grams.

“I have a better price,” he said.

Carlson, 55, and Gellerman, 34, appeared Monday in State District Court in Duluth on charges from Friday’s raid — four counts of fourth-degree sale of controlled substances, stemming from purchases by several undercover officers of Riptide, a powder-like substance Carlson said he was selling as pipe cleaner. An analysis determined the substance was an illegal stimulant under state law, according to the criminal complaint against them.

Police said they made buys at the store after a man overdosed and was found with a Riptide package.

Carlson said Tuesday he was selling products called Riptide and Everest. He said police took those packages, $14,000 in cash and a weapon. He said he had a similar product called Reaper that police did not take. Carlson said he won’t sell it, just to be safe from another raid.

In a separate case, Carlson, his girlfriend, Gellerman and a former employee also face 54 federal charges of violating federal drug and product-labeling laws.

Carlson said he will keep the business open throughout the court process and won’t sweat the arrest and looming court cases. He and his son are scheduled to be in court to face the latest charges April 24.

“Stress will kill you,” he said.

The store, barely open an hour Tuesday, had customers streaming in and waiting in line.

It ended a respite for neighbors and visitors of the store at 120 E. Superior St. who have been dealing with lingering customers and people obviously high.

Carlson pointed to a man who appeared drunk on the sidewalk near the front door of the store.

“He’s drunk,” Carlson said. “I don’t even want him in here. But I get blamed.”

The man remained outside the store, smoking a cigarette offered by a Last Place customer.