‘Nice guy’ busted for illegally selling non-Oregon legal fireworks

Folks along his street had only good things to say about this young man – but, see why he potentially faces up to 5 years in jail and a $125,000 fine …

All of his neighbors describe the young man who was arrested at this house as a responsible neighbor. They were surprised to learn he was accused of illegally selling fireworks.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
Montavilla resident Leslie Roma-Smith says she was surprised on the night of June 19 to see a procession of law enforcement and fire bureau vehicles – even a bomb squad truck – pull up her street, and charge into her next door neighbor’s house.

It wasn’t until hours later that Roma-Smith learned that her next door neighbor apparently had a booming side business – selling illegal-in-Oregon fireworks on the Internet.

“He’s lived there for going-on three years. He’s been a really helpful, responsible neighbor. He works hard. And,” Roma-Smith reflected, “he does put on a good backyard July 4th firework display.”

Authorities say these “bad boys” of the firework kingdom are illegal – and selling them is also against the law – especially if the vendor doesn’t have the appropriate license. PF&R photo

Starts with Craigslist posting
“Several weeks ago,” Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) spokesman Lt. Rich Tyler began telling the story, “the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office forwarded an investigative lead to PF&R investigators, regarding a posting on ‘Craigslist’, advertising fireworks for sale.”

E-mail exchanges between the alleged explosives seller and a member of the Metropolitan Fire Investigation Team (MFIT) set up the undercover purchase of large quantity of illegal fireworks, revealed Tyler. A subsequent search of a home at 130 NE 71st and two vehicles netted illegal fireworks with an approximate retail value of $10,000.

Most people wouldn’t consider these “Bottle Rockets” and “ladyfingers” to be “destructive devices” – nevertheless, they are illegal to use or possess in Oregon. PF&R photo

Subjects may get BIG fines … and jail time
The MFIT arrested two individuals in SE Portland for illegal firework sales, possession, and manufacture.

22-year-old Harvey Joe Edward Stevens, the home’s primary resident, was charged with Sale, Possession and use of Fireworks, a Class B misdemeanor – carrying a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and a $2,500 fine. 35-year-old James P. Johnson was also charged. Both were booked and released.

Tyler said the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office – along with other agencies – are considering adding other charges, including Possession of Destructive Device,a  Class C Felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, and a $125,000 fine.

“A lot of work by the MFIT crew went into this operation,” PF&R’s chief investigator, Rich Stenhouse, stated. “Our focus is always on the protection of citizens and property in the City of Portland.”

We don’t know if MFI Team found evidence of fireworks manufacturing in the Northeast Portland home, but these fireworks – legal across the river in Washington, but illegal here – appear to be factory-made devices. PF&R photo

Other neighbors, who declined to be named, said that while the backyard July 4th fireworks shows were elaborate, they never felt in endangered by pyrotechnic displays. One added that he thought the authorities were “trying to make an example of Stevens” to curb other Internet sales.

Tyler countered, “As we enter fireworks season, firefighters from around the region would like to remind people to ‘Keep it Safe, Keep it Legal’.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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