Man arrested in South LA fireworks explosion should plead guilty, federal government says
The man whose fireworks detonated the LAPD two months ago in a massive explosion in southern LA that injured 17 people is expected to plead guilty on Monday to the unauthorized transport of explosives from Nevada to California, officials said.
Arturo Ceja III, 26, was storing around 16 tons of fireworks in the backyard of his family’s home on East 27th Street near San Pedro Street when Los Angeles Police discovered the arsenal on the 30th. June after receiving information about suspected illegal sales, according to the Bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives.
An LAPD bomb squad deemed some of the fireworks dangerous for transport, so officers detonated some of them in a black armored containment vehicle. But they underestimated the weight of the fireworks and power and trigger a explosion which destroyed 22 residential properties, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles, including the containment truck, police said.
Ceja told ATF he bought the fireworks from a dealership called Area 51 in Pahrump, Nevada, and took them to Los Angeles in vans and trucks rented on six or seven trips, according to the government. Federal the authorities charged Ceja July 2 with one count of unauthorized transportation of explosives.
Ceja must withdraw his plea of ”not guilty” at a hearing Monday afternoon before US District Judge Fernando M. Olguin, according to court records. Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office, said Ceja had to plead guilty. If he does, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Ceja’s attorney, Matthew J. Lombard, did not respond to requests for comment.
The LAPD has been the subject of strong criticism for the explosion of residents and elected officials. Critics demand to know exactly how the department managed to cause the explosion while transporting the fireworks. The inhabitants of the neighborhood said the police should have done more to protect the community before the fireworks exploded.
The police overseer and bomb technicians who participated in the sloppy explosion were withdrawn from the field, according to LAPD chief Michel Moore. ATF is continue to investigate the incident, and the FBI is examining the LAPD’s systems and protocols.
More than a month after the explosion shattered windows and blew up the doors of buildings along the block, the city was still home to more than 80 displaced residents in a hotel.
Federal officials said they suspected Ceja of selling illegal fireworks, but charged him only with unlicensed transport. Ceja told the ATF he paid cash for all the fireworks he bought in Area 51, including some he bought from a man who sold them in the trunk of his Honda in the concession parking lot, authorities said.
Police found more than 500 boxes of commercial and homemade fireworks in Ceja’s backyard, some of which were stored dangerously next to cooking grates, they said. Authorities said they initially estimated Ceja had 5,000 pounds of fireworks in the house, but ATF ultimately determined it was around 32,000 pounds.
Fireworks purchased from dealers in Nevada are often sold illegally in California at much higher prices. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection seized 80,000 pounds of illegal fireworks at the Nevada-California border in May and June, an ATF agent said in court documents. Fireworks buyers often pay cash and travel on back roads to dodge the app, according to the ATF.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.