A South Los Angeles man whose cache of illegal fireworks blew up a neighborhood in a bungled police bomb squad detonation, injuring 17 people and displacing dozens, was sentenced Wednesday to five months in federal prison.
Arturo Ceja III, 27, was sentenced in federal court, more than a year after he pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of explosives, from Nevada to California, without a license.
However, Ceja wasn’t fined and won’t have to pay any restitution. He was ordered to surrender on Nov. 28 to begin his prison term. He also received two years of supervised release.
On June 30, 2021, police went to Ceja’s home on East 27th Street where they found an estimated 16 tons of illegal commercial and homemade fireworks and other explosive materials.
Ceja had planned to sell them locally to people who wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July, prosecutors said.
Fireworks are illegal to sell or possess in Los Angeles and in unincorporated areas of the county.
The LAPD bomb squad packed nearly 40 pounds of the most volatile and dangerous homemade fireworks into an armored containment vessel that was rated for only 33 pounds, according to a federal report.
The fireworks were supposed to be detonated safely at the scene because they were too unstable to move but the vessel exploded, and debris rained down on scores of residences, businesses and vehicles.
The explosion injured 10 law enforcement officers and seven residents and damaged 22 homes, 13 businesses and 37 cars and trucks. About 80 people were displaced and some have yet to return to the neighborhood.
Damage exceeded $1 million and the city has spent millions more on repairs, housing and other relief for residents.
Federal investigators said that bomb squad technicians underestimated the weight of the explosive material because they gauged it by sight instead of using a scale, and also ignored the warnings of a team member who said the explosive material should be broken into smaller loads.