A Kansas man has been sent to federal prison for nearly eight years for possessing bath salts in Nebraska before they specifically were made illegal by state and federal law.

"This is not your run of the mill drug case," Steven Miles Sullivan's attorney, Glenn Shapiro, said at sentencing last week. "He thought he was complying with the law."

That's because when a deputy stopped Sullivan on Oct. 27, 2010, in Otoe County and Sullivan said he had K2 and a bag of bath salts in his vehicle neither was illegal.

Both are now, under both state and federal law.

Still, prosecutors said that at the time of the traffic stop the bath salts violated a federal law that prohibits possessing a "structural analogue" with intent to distribute.

In other words, they were substantially similar to the chemical structure of an illegal, controlled substance and had a substantially similar effect on the human body as the drug they mimicked.

Sullivan was indicted.

At trial in December, Shapiro argued that the Lawrence, Kan., man was an innocent wholesaler who legitimately bought the product online -- when it was legal -- to sell at truck stops and head shops, and he was up front with law enforcement about having it.

But the Nebraska jury found him guilty.

In court last week, Sullivan, 31, told the judge the whole thing left him highly shocked and confused.

"If I knew that this product was gonna land me in this position, in this courtroom … I never ever would have carried it," he said.

But U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said the defendant had a history of dealing drugs and thought he had found a way to do so without getting caught.

Over 11 years, Kopf said, Sullivan had 12 contacts with law enforcement, all but two involving controlled substances.

"It is an unusual case," Kopf agreed, but he said nothing about it warranted a sentence lower than federal guidelines called for and gave Sullivan seven years and eight months.

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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