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Meth lab owner at large

A Wadena man remains a fugitive as of Tuesday morning after law enforcement officers allegedly uncovered a meth lab at his home in northeast Wadena.

Steven Arthur Savaloja, 48, is charged with several felony drug charges in Wadena County District Court for allegedly manufacturing and possessing methamphetamine. Another man, Eric Jay Dalaska, 38, of Ottertail was arrested on charges related to the drug manufacturing and is in custody at the Otter Tail County Detention Facility.

"We knew of these two actively cooking," said Wadena Police Sgt./Investigator Tom Crawford.

A search warrant was executed on June 19 at 24 Alfred Ave. NE, Wadena, after an investigation and information from an informant. Savaloja was charged June 26.

Savaloja has been in contact with law enforcement through his attorney, Crawford said.

"He said he would turn himself in last week but hasn't shown up yet," Crawford said Monday morning.

A warrant was issued for Savaloja's arrest.

According to a court complaint, a detective met with a cooperating informant on May 30 who said she had been involved with a meth manufacturing ring operating in Wadena and Otter Tail counties during the past year. The informant told the detective she traveled to different cities and purchased Sudafed tablets and then provided them to Dalaska to process them into meth, according to the complaint.

The informant also reported that Dalaska had been involved in manufacturing meth in a garage in Wadena and that she was present during the process several times during the past year. The informant said the owner of the residence was Savaloja and he was present with Dalaska when the meth cooking occurred, according to the court complaint. She also described several precursor items that were used during the manufacturing process, according to the complaint, and showed officers the location of the garage in Wadena where the meth was cooked.

On June 19, a search warrant was executed at the Alfred Avenue home. A juvenile, who was Savaloja's child, was at the home. No one else was located on the property.

According to the court complaint, an officer walked into the detached garage and smelled ammonia, which is used to manufacture meth. A truck also smelled of chemicals. Several items commonly used in the production of meth were found on the property: glassware, strainers, tubing and an ice cream-type bucket containing a cloudy substance covered with a clear liquid.

"They were soaking pills and getting ready to cook," Crawford said.

Arrangements were made to remove and destroy the hazardous material.

In the house, more items consistent with a meth laboratory were discovered. According to the court complaint, officers found glass smoking pipes, baggies with a crystalline residue, syringes and pill bottles. A loaded 12-gauge shotgun with a blue flashlight taped to the front barrel was found next to the bed, along with a .22 caliber Ruger pistol under the mattress. A .22 caliber rifle was found behind a door. Additional drug paraphernalia was found in the night stand. More items were found under the vanity sink.

Officers also located empty packages of various cold tablets, which are used to produce meth, and anhydrous ammonia, which is also used to produce meth, according to the complaint.

Savaloja is charged with first-degree controlled substance crime -- methamphetamine manufacturing, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, possession of substances with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and anhydrous ammonia prohibited conduct.

He is also charged with methamphetamine-related crimes involving children, because a juvenile allegedly was living at the home and possess pistol/assault weapon -- user of controlled substance, because he allegedly possessed a firearm at a time when he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

Several law enforcement agencies worked on the investigation: the West Central Drug Task Force, Central Minnesota Drug Task Force, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Wadena Police Department.