Russell Dahlgren found one thing he was good at: Cooking up methamphetamine in the garage of his mother's Taylorsville home.
He was persistent, replacing lab equipment and surveillance cameras seized by police in repeated arrests until he was finally put out of business in a December raid that culminated in Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard filing a civil seizure order against the home.Dahlgren, 31, pleaded guilty to a first-degree felony charge of operating a clandestine methamphetamine lab within 500 feet of a school and a second-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity.
Monday, Dahlgren was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of five years to life on the first charge and one to 15 years on the second by 3rd District Judge Stephen Henriod.
Henriod said Dahlgren's pattern of behavior shows he is a danger to everyone in his neighborhood and there's no evidence he will stop cooking up the chemical if allowed out on probation.
There is evidence that at least one explosion resulted from Dahlgren's cooking, prosecutor Clark Harms said, despite Dahlgren's insistence that he is careful and knows how to handle the volatile, toxic chemicals used to make methamphetamine.
In addition to being next to a church that operates a day care center and school, Dahlgren endangered the lives of at least 19 other children in nearby homes, Harms said, telling the judge that one in five methamphetamine labs that are found by authorities are found after they have exploded.
Despite raids in April and May of 1997 Dahlgren continued to operate his lab, Harms said, cooking up enough methamphetamine to feed his own habit and selling the rest to replace his seized chemicals, lab equipment, and surveillance system of closed circuit TVs hooked to a monitor in the garage.
"Russell Dahlgren is a methamphetamine cook. He likes to cook for himself and his friends and he will continue to do so," Harms said, adding that in June of last year he bragged to neighbors he'd been cooking for two years without an accident.
Defense attorney Deborah Kreeck-Mendez argued that Dahlgren is a methamphetamine addict who needs treatment and who needs to find something else he is good at to succeed.
The judge disagreed.
"We're very lucky we don't have any dead children because of your operation," Henriod said, ordering Dahlgren's prison terms to run consecutively.
He also ordered Dahlgren to pay $2,800 restitution to his mother to have the toxic chemical residue removed from her garage and restitution to the state for cleaning up the labs, a figure Harms estimates at between $9,000 and $15,000.
Harms said the civil seizure order against the home of Ardella Dahlgren, 71, is pending, awaiting disposition of her son's criminal case. Dahlgren still faces a drug charge in Utah County and a federal charge that he perjured himself during a court hearing when he denied knowing another drug dealer.