EVERETT — James Painter’s business was heroin.
He made lots of money slinging dope to addicts, tens of thousands of dollars a week when business was good. There was cash for houses, cars, expensive gadgets and brand names. Business was always good.
Painter didn’t give much thought to the people whose lives revolved around what he was pushing. His teenage years were mired in the drug world and he learned then that peddling methamphetamine or heroin was lucrative and worth the risk. Drug money could buy things outside his low-income family’s grasp. Relatives came to count on him for making ends meet.
He did a short stint in jail after catching a couple of drug charges in 2007.
The money lured him back and Painter got himself connected to the heroin pipeline. By 2013, he was the prime customer at a supply house set up by Mexican nationals. They were tied to the violent Sinaloa Cartel, the notorious trafficking operation behind thousands of killings in the battle to stay on top of the multibillion-dollar drug trade.
“I fell right into it and my greed took me down,” Painter said. “I destroyed lives, a lot of lives. I deserve everything I’m getting.”
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis sentenced Painter on Friday to 15 years in prison.
“This was your business. You were in it for the money. The only reason you stopped was because you got caught,” Ellis said.
Painter was arrested in 2014 after a lengthy investigation by the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. He was caught with more than four pounds of heroin.
That bundle was enough to get 1,200 people high, or to feed someone’s addiction for four years, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul wrote in court papers.
Ellis presides over the county’s family drug treatment court. She told Painter that later in the day her courtroom would be filled with parents battling addiction who are trying to win back custody of their children. At some point drugs came first in their lives and everything else, including their children, came second, the judge said.
“I find myself wondering how many can trace their addiction to you,” Ellis said.
Painter, 29, apologized to the court, detectives and community. He wrote a lengthy letter to the judge, detailing his family’s history and how he easily slipped into drug use and later dealing. The heroin, the overdoses, the chaos were part of the world he’d known since he was a kid.
During trial when the deputy prosecutor showed the jury four pounds of heroin, Painter saw the shock on their faces, he said.
“It’s just been part of my life,” Painter said. “I definitely need to change my life.”
On the second day of trial earlier this month the Shoreline man pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering and witness intimidation. He admitted that his drug-dealing was significant enough that he deserved a sentence beyond the 10-year maximum.
The defendant forfeited his houses worth more than $500,000, plus cash and cars.
Lawyers recommended an 11-year sentence. His attorney pointed out that other defendants arrested during the investigation received less time, including Efrain Sepulveda, Painter’s supplier.
Investigators found 19 pounds of heroin and more than $350,000 in the Lynnwood house where Sepulveda stayed. He identified himself as the boss of the supply operation who made sure the heroin was sold and the proceeds sent back to Mexico. Painter rented the house for him and provided Sepulveda, also known as “Pollo,” with a car.
Sepulveda pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 6½ years. He agreed to testify against Painter but declined to provide information about people higher up in the trafficking ring.
At least since 2010 cops were hearing Painter’s name.
He was careful not to get caught. He buried money, cut off customers and rented another stash house away from his own home. Detectives also suspect that he might have shut down operations when he suspected they were getting close.
The task force started working with a confidential informant in 2013. The informant helped the detectives make the case against Painter. Detectives recorded multiple drug deals and later raided three houses and arrested several people, many of whom were carrying large amounts of heroin or cash.
“You were releasing a toxic substance into our community. You were doing it for money. You deserve to go to prison,” Ellis said.