LINCOLN, Neb. — A federal judge in Lincoln has sentenced mother and son business owners to prison and has fined them millions, calling the synthetic marijuana they sold poison.
Allen Peithman was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 10 years in prison, and Sharon Elder was sentenced to more than five years. The millions in fines levied are in addition to a $1.2 million monetary judgment entered against the two.
The sentencing stems from a 2015 federal indictment saying Lincoln head shops Dirt Cheap and Island Smokes were responsible for distributing drugs, paraphernalia and financial crimes. The indictment occurred after more than 100 local residents were treated in the hospital after smoking a drug often called K2, potpourri or synthetic marijuana.
Defense attorney Korey Reiman argued that Elder, who was running operations at the two shops, was trying to stay on the right side of the law. He asked why police didn’t ask Elder to stop selling the potpourri if they were so concerned about a health crisis.
“The government’s whole role here was to bankrupt AJ Peithman and Sharon Elder, and they’ve done it,” Reiman said.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said Reiman wasn’t going to convince him that the two didn’t know people were buying K2 to smoke it and get high.
“They’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to think it made some of them sick,” Kopf said.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing involved whether Kopf could use evidence of conduct the jury had previously acquitted them of to arrive at their sentences.
The jury found Peithman and Elder guilty in March of conspiracy to sell misbranded drugs, commit mail fraud, receive illicit profits and structure bank deposits to avoid financial reporting.
But the jury acquitted them on what Reiman called the more severe counts they faced, including a drug dealing conspiracy and money laundering charges.
Reiman said Peithman is “getting punished for actions that a jury found him not guilty of.”
“You don’t think selling something that made 110 people deathly ill is a serious crime?” Kopf said.
Peithman said he cares about his community and that he never meant for all of this to happen. He said if he had known “people were dropping,” he would’ve told his mom to stop selling the potpourri.
Reiman said he plans to appeal the decision.