The feds arrested Arturo Ceja III, a South Los Angeles man on federal charges of illegally transporting tons of explosives he bought in Nevada – 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.
The complaint alleges that Ceja traveled several times to Nevada in late June to buy explosives – including aerial displays and large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials – that he transported to his residence in rental vans. He bought most of the explosives at Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada. Fireworks in California can be sold for as much as four times what purchasers pay for the fireworks in Nevada.
Ceja told investigators that he bought yhe homemade explosives – made of cardboard paper, hobby fuse and packed with explosive flash powder – from someone selling the devices out of the trunk of a Honda in the Area 51 parking lot. Ceja had no ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that allowed him to transport either aerial display fireworks or homemade fireworks made with explosive materials, including but not limited to flash powder.
On Wednesday, after receiving a tip that fireworks were being stored in Ceja's backyard, Los Angeles Police officers responded to his residence on East 27th Street. At the house, officers found over 500 boxes of commercial grade fireworks in large cardboard boxes. The initial investigation by local authorities estimated that approximately 5,000 pounds of fireworks were found; however, today the ATF determined that Ceja was storing approximately 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his backyard.
Allegedly, the fireworks were stored outside and in an unsafe manner, namely under unsecured tents and next to cooking grill. None of the commercial fireworks or homemade fireworks, which contained explosive materials, were stored in an approved magazine. Besides the commercial fireworks, the initial search of Ceja's residence led to the discovery of over 140 other homemade fireworks (typically referred to M devices of varying sizes), as well as explosives-making components, including hobby fuse that matched the fuse on a homemade mortar shell wrapped in tin foil that was discovered inside the residence.
As the fireworks were being removed from Ceja's residence, the LAPD Bomb Squad determined that some of the 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 radius, damaging homes in the neighborhood and injuring a total of 17 law enforcement personnel and civilians.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The charge of transporting explosives without a license carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.