Residue of a 'career criminal'

GOLD BAR — Anyone who doesn't know about Steven Ray Delvecchio can hear an earful from many people in this city of 2,000, says outgoing Mayor Steven Fuller.

To hear some tell it, Delvecchio, who has been called a "reckless career criminal," was a one-man crime wave. His lengthy criminal record includes convictions for bail jumping, burglary, drug possession and 10 assorted misdemeanors, according to Snohomish County Superior Court records.

"He's been selling drugs out of there (his Highway 2 house) for 30 years — everybody knows it," said Fuller, who recently lost the mayoral election and ends his tenure this week. "He always gets arrested and comes back and does it some more."

Thus, few in Gold Bar shed a tear when Delvecchio was sentenced Oct. 2 to 10 years in prison for possession of methamphetamine with intent to manufacture or deliver, and for methamphetamine production. City Council members even wrote a letter to the sentencing judge to describe the negative impact Delvecchio had on the community.

Now residents are hoping to be rid of one last vestige of Delvecchio's criminal legacy, the chemical residue in his home.

A Snohomish County judge Friday cleared the way for cleanup of the home by handing over ownership of Delvecchio's $68,000 property to the county. This is the first time the county has asked a judge to order forfeiture of a property used for meth cooking, Deputy Prosecutor Al Gehri said.

During the civil hearing, attorneys agreed to give Delvecchio's grown son and the son's fiancée 10 days to move out of the house. Gehri said cleanup crews will then begin evaluating the property.

Gehri said prosecutors have been successful in seizing other drug properties, especially those used for growing marijuana. He said it's unique for the county to seek ownership of a meth-lab site because most of those busted by authorities have been on rental properties, installed inside stolen cars and or set up in motel rooms.

County officials said Delvecchio's long history of repeated drug violations and the fact he owned the property outright were reasons for seizing the mountain cabin between Gold Bar and Sultan, and the land surrounding it.

"It seemed the only way to stop these incidents was to take the property away," Gehri said. "We certainly will do an environmental review and take whatever steps necessary to clean the property."

Gus Markwell, an Everett attorney who represents Delvecchio, said his client is a low-level drug dealer, producer and user. He said prosecutors, law-enforcement officials and neighbors were blowing Delvecchio's crimes out of proportion.

"It seems a lot of people need someone to blame, and Steve is that someone," Markwell said. "Getting Steve Delvecchio out of Gold Bar is not going to have the effect they think it will. Steve is only one of the users in that area."

No one in Gold Bar believes Delvecchio is responsible for all the crime in the area. But many, such as Mayor Fuller and Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, believe putting him behind bars and cleaning his home are steps in the right direction.

Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Richardson of the county regional drug task force said his agency has been investigating Delvecchio closely since December 1996, when a task-force member learned through an informer that Delvecchio was selling methamphetamine out of his house. The next month, authorities found methamphetamine, a scale and packaging material in Delvecchio's house.

Delvecchio was convicted of possession of a controlled substance but quickly returned home.

In September 2000, an undercover law-enforcement operation resulted in a purchase of meth from Delvecchio. Authorities found more meth and remnants of a lab on Delvecchio's property the next month.

In July 2001, authorities found meth in Delvecchio's front pocket when they served him at his house for an outstanding arrest, Gehri wrote in his motion for summary judgment.

Richardson said that after every arrest, Delvecchio went home and restarted his drug operation.

Richardson said that when Delvecchio was confronted by detectives in his home on May 8, 2002, Delvecchio ignited the toxic contents of an electric slow cooker and tried to light a shed in his yard on fire. The small fires were quickly extinguished.

When detectives searched Delvecchio's house the next day, they reported finding muriatic acid, lithium batteries, ammonia, ephedrine, scales and a white powder.

Jonelle Fenton-Wallace, an environmental specialist with the Snohomish Health District, said she had searched the home and found Mason jars filled with what appeared to be the toxic remnants of drug cooking.

Fenton-Wallace did a preliminary evaluation of the damage to Delvecchio's house in May 2002 and issued a health order forbidding anyone from entering until it was cleaned up.

But there is no way to enforce a health order because health-district employees lack the power to make arrests or enforce laws, and Delvecchio, who was out on bail, was arrested again at his house last April 3.

This time, detectives reported finding more than 16 grams of methamphetamine, a scale coated in white powder, lithium batteries and eight boxes of cold medication. The latter two are commonly used to make methamphetamine.

"He's a reckless career criminal. He doesn't care what happens to his neighbors or the community," Richardson said. "He just continued to operate under the way he always operated."

Though an estimate on cleaning up the house has not been made, the state Department of Health has a strict mandate on how meth houses are cleaned. Once a home is cleaned, toxicology tests must determine that it contains no more than 0.1 microgram of methamphetamine per 100 square centimeters. A microgram is one-millionth of a gram.

A packet of Equal, as a comparison, contains 1 gram of the sugar substitute.

Gary Hanada, the section manager of the Snohomish Health District's environmental-health division, said living in a meth house is hazardous because the corrosive chemicals used to make the drug — including ammonia, other solvents, thinners and acids — can enter the body by ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption.

Long-term environmental problems are unusual because most of the chemicals are easily diluted, Hanada said, but groundwater contamination is possible if chemicals are dumped.

Richardson said part of the cleanup contract includes testing the soil and groundwater on and around Delvecchio's property. He said the health district had done some initial testing and found arsenic and petroleum contaminants.

Gold Bar City Council members Debra Hunt and Paul Price, in letters to the judge who sentenced Delvecchio to prison, expressed concerns about contamination from Delvecchio's yard reaching local waterways.

"I cannot imagine the pollutants that have been dumped on that property," Hunt wrote. "I cannot tell you the devastating effect Steven Ray Delvecchio has on our community."

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or