A South Los Angeles man was arrested and charged on federal charges of illegally transporting tons of explosives he purchased in another state – including dangerous homemade devices that were detonated by police, leading to a massive explosion that destroyed a specially designed containment vehicle and injured 17 people.
Arturo Ceja III, was arrested by ATF special agents Friday and charged with transporting explosives without a license. Ceja will remain in custody until an initial appearance, expected to be on Tuesday.
The ATF determined Saturday that Ceja was storing approximately 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his backyard.
Reports state that Ceja made several trips to Nevada in late June to purchase various types of explosives.
They include aerial displays and large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials – that he transported in rental vans.
Most of the explosives were purchased in Nevada from an individual selling the devices out of the trunk of a Honda in a parking lot.
The complaint notes that fireworks in California can be sold for as much as four times what purchasers pay for the fireworks in Nevada.
Ceja told investigators that the explosives he purchased were constructed of cardboard paper, hobby fuse and packed with explosive flash powder.
“Ceja did not possess an ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that would authorize him to transport either aerial display fireworks or homemade fireworks made with explosive materials, including but not limited to flash powder,” according to the complaint affidavit written by a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
After receiving a tip that fireworks were being stored in Ceja’s backyard, LAPD officers responded to his residence on East 27th Street, where officers found over 500 boxes of commercial grade fireworks in large cardboard boxes.
“The fireworks were stored outside and in an unsafe manner, namely under unsecured tents and next to cooking grills,” the complaint alleges.
In addition to the commercial fireworks, the initial search of Ceja’s residence led to the discovery of over 140 other homemade fireworks, as well as explosives-making components.
While the fireworks were being removed from Ceja’s residence, the LAPD Bomb Squad determined that some homemade fireworks containing explosive materials were not safe to transport due to risk of detonation in a densely populated area and therefore would be destroyed on scene using a total containment vessel (TCV.)
During the destruction of the devices, the entire TCV exploded, causing a massive blast, damaging homes in the neighborhood and injuring a total of 17 law enforcement personnel and civilians.
The charge of transporting explosives without a license carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General; and the Los Angeles Police Department are investigating this matter.