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Arturo Ceja, Arrested In Connection To South LA Fireworks Explosion, Charged By ATF While Many Area Residents Still Displaced

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms charged 27-year-old Arturo Ceja III ("Cejas"), arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department for  32,000 pounds of illegal fireworks that led to a botched detonation that injured 17 people, with illegally transporting explosives without a license.

17 Injured After Planned Detonation Of Seized Illegal Fireworks Ends In Explosion
Boxes of illegal fireworks prior to a detonation gone wrong in a bomb disposal truck in South Los Angeles on June 30, 2021. (LAPD)

The criminal complaint, filed late Friday, alleges the 26-year-old made several trips to Nevada in late June in order to buy various types of explosives, including aerial displays and large homemade fireworks, that he transported to his South LA residence in rental vans.

Most of the explosives, according to the complaint, were purchased at Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada.

Agents who wrote the complaint noted that fireworks in California can be sold for as much as four times what buyers pay for them in Nevada.

Ceja told agents that he bought the fireworks from an individual selling them out of the trunk of a Honda in the Area 51 parking lot.

"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," the complaint affidavit says.

The charge of transporting explosives without a license carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

Meanwhile, neighbors displaced by the failed fireworks detonation were still trying to get situated.

"I'm five months pregnant and I was worried about that at first," Kenia Prieto, lives near where the explosion occurred, said. "I was like, oh my God, my baby, my baby."

Just three days after the LAPD's firework detonation, neighbors who experienced the explosion said they're having a hard time shaking the experience.

"All we hear was just a boom and then the next thing you know, everything just fell on the ground, our shelves, book shelves, everything," Miguel Avila, a neighbor displaced by the incident, said.

Another displaced neighbor, James Lewis, said they were just living their lives when the event took place and now everything has dramatically changed.

Councilman Curren Price has helped more than 50 people get rooms at area hotels.

"We're taking about folks who are kind of struggling. They've got to get up and go to work every day and they don't have their car or they can't get access to their clothes or papers. It's a real disruption," Councilman Price said.

The councilman is calling for the city to compensate victims and he wants a thorough investigation into where exactly in the process of safely detonating fireworks deemed t0o dangerous to transport failed. So far, LAPD has declined to comment on how often trucks like the one used to unsuccessfully detonate this latest fireworks seizure are inspected for safety.

"I just think it's very suspicious that it occurred first of all, curious to know what the protocol is for removing that kind of munitions in an urban area, a heavily populated area. If that was permissible, maybe we need to change those rules and regs," Price said.

On Sunday morning at 9 a.m., a new assistance center will open for residents and business owners affected by the 27th Street incident.

It will be at the Trinity Rec Center. Councilman Price said it will be a one stop shop to get help from the government, utilities and nonprofits.

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