A South Los Angeles man accused of storing what officials now say turned out to be 32,000 pounds of fireworks and improvised explosive devices in his backyard, some of which led to an explosion that injured 17 people, faces federal charges that he illegally transported the explosives from Nevada, authorities said Saturday.
Arturo Ceja III, 26, was taken back into custody by agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Saturday, July 3, after a criminal complaint filed Friday charged him with transporting the explosives without a license, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ceja is set to appear in federal court on Tuesday, July 6, Mrozek said. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
A Local Assistance Center will open JULY 4th in response to the 27th Street Incident. All individuals and businesses impacted by this event are encouraged to visit to see how government agencies and non-profit organizations can best assist with recovery efforts. pic.twitter.com/cJrW4IZCyg
— LA City Emergency Management Department (@ReadyLA) July 3, 2021
Federal authorities accuse Ceja of making several trips to Nevada in June to purchase various explosives, including large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials, Mrozek said. He allegedly drove the fireworks to his home in the 700 block of East 27th Street in rental vans.
Ceja allegedly purchased most of the fireworks from Area 51 Fireworks, a dealer in Pahrump, Nevada, Mrozek said.
He told investigators the homemade explosives, which were “constructed of cardboard paper, hobby fuse and packed with explosive flash powder,” were purchased from the trunk of a Honda in the Area 51 parking lot, Mrozek said.
While Los Angeles police initially said they found 5,000 pounds of fireworks in Ceja’s backyard, ATF agents increased the amount to 32,000 pounds Saturday, Mrozek said. The fireworks were found in approximately 500 boxes stacked eight- to 10-feet high.
Agents found more than 140 other homemade fireworks and explosives-making components inside Ceja’s home. That discovery included hobby fuse that matched the fuse on a homemade mortar shell wrapped in tin foil, Mrozek said.
“[T]he fireworks were stored outside and in an unsafe manner, namely under unsecured tents and next to cooking grills,” the criminal complaint said. “None of the commercial fireworks or homemade fireworks, which contained explosive materials, were stored in an approved magazine.”
Police found the fireworks after they were called to the home on a tip someone had been storing boxes of the explosives in a backyard Wednesday morning.
Investigators took the safe and sane fireworks to a safe location to be disposed, but opted to detonate the IEDs in a total containment vessel, designed to safely detonate up to 15 pounds of charge, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said. Officers loaded the vessel with less than 10 pounds of charge Wednesday night.
The blast left 17 people injured, 16 of whom were hospitalized with minor or moderate injuries, including 10 law enforcement officials.
The 500-pound door of the iron chamber on the truck was found in the yard of a home nearly four blocks away from the blast site, authorities said Friday.
Federal agents Saturday continued to investigate what led to the failure of the iron chamber. They mapped the blast zone and the debris field Friday, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun said.
Ceja was arrested Wednesday afternoon during LAPD’s investigation, but posted $500,000 bond the following day and was released until federal agents took him into custody Saturday, inmate records show.
Los Angeles police also accused Ceja of child endangerment and said his 10-year-old brother was at the home at the time of the fireworks discovery.
Authorities accused Ceja of planning to sell the fireworks to others in the community in celebration of the upcoming holiday.
Local authorities have seen an increase in illegal fireworks activity over the past five years, some linking it to gang activity, where members will sell fireworks at double or triple the cost and use the profits to purchase firearms, Bryan Gouge′, a senior arson and bomb investigator in the state Fire Marshal’s Office said.
Ceja has not been accused of either storing the fireworks or planning to sell them for the benefit of a street gang.
But, the complaint said, he did not have an ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that would allow him to transport aerial display fireworks or homemade fireworks made with explosive materials.
Source: Orange County Register