In a phone conversation from the Sherburne County jail, convicted Duluth head shop owner Jim Carlson talked to his girlfriend about transferring to her a villa and 5 acres he owns in Cozumel, Mexico, to avoid forfeiture of the property, a federal prosecutor has alleged.
Carlson, 56, is awaiting sentencing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis after being convicted on 51 counts of misbranding and selling synthetic drugs and money laundering in a two-week trial that ended Oct. 7. His girlfriend, Lava Haugen, 33, was convicted of four counts, including conspiracy, but remains free on bail.
Randall Tigue, Carlson’s attorney, said Thursday that he could not determine the validity of the prosecutor’s accusation because he has not seen a transcript of the phone call, alluded to in a letter sent by Assistant U.S. Attorney Surya Saxena to Judge David Doty.
Saxena asked Doty to “promptly” enter a preliminary order of forfeiture that Saxena first requested in October, “to prevent the potential dissipation of assets by defendants Carlson and Haugen.”
In his letter to Doty, Saxena said that “recent communications between defendants Carlson and Haugen indicate they plan to transfer title to real property in Cozumel, Mexico, from Carlson to a straw owner such as Haugen in order to prevent its forfeiture.
“More specifically, in a Nov. 22, 2013, jail call, defendants Carlson and Haugen discussed an apparent plan to transfer title to a Cozumel property in Lava Haugen’s name.”
Saxena wrote that during the call, Haugen said a person associated with the company that manages the Caribbean island property asked about “that money” to get the property transferred.
According to Saxena’s letter, Haugen replied that she needed to talk to Carlson, who needs to talk to his attorney and that she didn’t “know if it’s gonna be going in my name, or it’s gonna be going to what …”
Saxena’s letter refers to recordings of other calls that Carlson made from jail that mention “Annette” and “Louis,” who are associated with the company that manages Carlson’s Cozumel property. “Recordings of those calls will be provided if requested,” Saxena wrote.
One of Carlson’s Cozumel properties is known as “Villa Alegria.” It is a five-bedroom residential structure built by Carlson on property he bought in 1999 or 2000, according to an earlier court filing by Saxena.
Carlson is also allegedly attempting to transfer title on 5 acres of unimproved ocean property on Cozumel that he bought in about 2005, Saxena wrote.
He said the United States is entitled to a money judgment forfeiture of cash and property with a total value of $6,532,125.48, which he alleges Carlson derived from illegal drug sales.
Carlson was the owner of the Last Place on Earth, a head shop in Duluth that catered to users of synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs. He maintained they were legal because the drugs he sold were not identical to synthetic drugs that were banned.
Prosecutors contended that the makeup of the drugs he sold was close enough to proscribed drugs to constitute a crime, an issue that Tigue unsuccessfully disputed during Carlson’s trial but is expected to reiterate before the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224