‘The seriousness of this crime requires you to go to jail.’Senior Judge James Morris to Julie Marshall
‘The seriousness of this crime requires you to go to jail.’

Senior Judge James Morris to Julie Marshall
The owner of Needful Things was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for tax and drug crimes, which the judge called "a scourge on this community."

Julie M. Marshall, 39, pleaded guilty to a litany of charges in October, including corrupt business influence, possession of a synthetic drug, maintaining a common nuisance, three counts of tax evasion and three counts of failure to withhold employee sales taxes.

Marshall was arrested in September 2012 following a 15-month investigation into her businesses.

Police had received numerous complaints about drugs being dealt from the businesses and performed several controlled buys at the location.

Police executed search warrants in July 2012 at her homes and businesses, finding $234,540.07 in cash and 933 grams of synthetic drugs.

Authorities found Marshall had not been paying income taxes for several years and had not been withholding taxes from her employees' paychecks.

Marshall said an ex-boyfriend introduced her to synthetic substances and that's how she began selling them in the store. She purchased them wholesale and discovered she could make huge profits.

The synthetic substances, which were packaged in grams and sold as herbal incense or plant fertilizer, sold for more than $40.

Marshall testified she made more than $1 million each year off the sales of the synthetic substances.

Marshall said she was told the items she was selling were herbal incenses and had a sign posted saying they were not for human consumption.

She never tried to find out what they were or research the items she was selling in her store, she said.

Throughout the eight-hour hearing, Marshall, who often was in tears, was insistent that she had no idea what people were using her product for.

"When I sold them for two or three years, they didn't call them synthetic substances. It wasn't all over the news," she said.

Indiana State Police Detective Tim Denby, the lead investigator on the case, testified that between 80 and 95 percent of Marshall's sales were synthetic substances, based on her records.

Upon announcing the four-year sentence, Special Judge James Morris said he didn't believe Marshall was clueless as to how the product was being used based on the profits she claimed to be making.

"That's a bit more than I can swallow," he said. "These synthetic drugs have been a scourge on this community, and there's been a lot of heartache in this community."

Marshall had also been charged with dealing synthetic drugs out of her Needful Things store at 2910 Clifty Drive.

But, prosecutors previously said it would be difficult to prove she knew what she was selling was illegal because the law had changed five days prior to the controlled buy.

During Friday's sentencing hearing, the parties reached an agreement on the money seized by law enforcement during the execution of the search warrants.

Of that money, $127.624.28 will be used to pay unpaid taxes. The remaining amount will be split: One half will be seized and turned over to law enforcement; the other half will be returned to Marshall. Her money will be placed in escrow due to a ruling in a pending civil case that froze her assets.

When taken, the synthetic substances would supply a methamphetamine-like high and produce similar side effects.

Police grew concerned because they believed people purchased the drugs thinking they were safe since they were sold from a storefront. Officers also said the synthetic substances acted as a gateway drug, and often led to harder substances such as meth, cocaine or heroin.

State police also reported an increase in overdoses reported to King's Daughters' Hospital around the time Marshall began selling the synthetic substances.

In 2007, KDH had 60 reported overdoses. By 2010, the year Marshall started her new business venture, overdoses had increased to 111. Police did not attribute the increase to Marshall, but said there is a correlation between the two.

The money, Marshall said, was the reason she kept the business going. Marshall, who dropped out of high school after the 10th grade, worked in the fast food industry for several years before opening the first Needful Things store downtown.

After she began pulling in a large amount of cash selling the synthetic substances, she didn't know how to handle herself.

"For the first time I could provide for my children and give them a life I didn't have," she said.

George Gesenhues, Marshall's attorney, hoped for a sentence to be suspended to home detention so she could tend to her two children.

Prosecutor Chad Lewis requested Marshall be sentenced to eight years in prison - the maximum that would have been allowed under the terms of the plea agreement. He said the fact that she didn't care enough to look into what she was selling was unforgivable.

"Turning her head shows her character. She was making millions (of dollars) off people in this community. Making money, getting people high," Lewis said. "She had absolutely no concern what she was selling was illegal. She was making too much money."

Marshall has a pending charge of dealing a controlled substance, a Class A felony, pending in Clark County. Gesenhues said she has a verbal agreement with Clark County prosecutors that her charges would be dismissed if she pleaded guilty to charges in Jefferson County.

She also faces federal charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Gesenhues said she would plead guilty to the money laundering charges and have the drug trafficking charges dismissed, a deal federal prosecutors cut in return for her plea in Jefferson County.

Marshall is also involved in a civil suit with the family of Ryan Moreland. They claim he died as a result of ingesting an illegal synthetic drug purchased at her store. Marshall denies any responsibility for Moreland's death, and the case is still pending.

Steve Moreland, Ryan's father, was going to testify during Friday's hearing, but the judge did not allow it because he was not the victim of any of the crimes she pleaded guilty to.