July 3, 2007

Your tax dollars hard at work supporting safe and sane fireworks sales

Well it looks like LAAG efforts after the March 2006 Miller explosion (and Sheriff's department embarrassment) are starting to pay off. We realize of course that all this enforcement is very expensive and we are not too sure how many of the fireworks in the Carson or Watts supply houses (see stories below) would make their way to Lakewood. However as the Sheriff department covers many cities and county land within the County this so called "Lakewood Fireworks Suppression Task Force" (as Lt. Terry Benjestorf of the Lakewood Sheriff's Station refers to it on CBS2 news) should be renamed the "LA County Fireworks Suppression Task Force" and funded by all cities served by the Sheriffs, LAPD and smaller departments, not just focused on Lakewood or using Lakewood's budget, which already went up nearly 7.5% just for Sheriff's protection likely due to fireworks "suppression" efforts. The fireworks problem is at least county wide if not state wide. The NBC spin on the story does make it appear a few other agencies were involved (but no details on budgets, manpower or costs) and does not spin the story as much in the Lakewood Sheriff's department favor.

Also we don't see any "legal" safe and sane fireworks companies stepping up to help out with these costs even though our tax dollars are being used to protect their sales turf from illegal fireworks. And from our other articles on this the cities with safe and sane fireworks are clearly attracting more illegal fireworks.

Also, not to belittle these efforts, but this is rather like the "war on drugs" that has been raging over the last 20 years. Lots of people in in prison and lots of tax dollars spent but no relief in sight. I think the "war on fireworks" may be headed in the same direction.

Another issue. The media is really good at repeating the pablum they fed by law enforcement agencies but not very good on follow through. What will happen to all these arrests? Will the there be prosecutions? Will they be successful? Will there be trial or plea bargains? What will the sentences be. Of course LAAG will have to follow up as I am sure we will not here from the Sheriff's Dept. or the media again on this aspect of the "story".

Finally, it needs to be emphasized that until LAAG came along these types of efforts by the Sheriff's department were unheard of. Local Government only responds to political or legal pressure. No pressure no action. For this reason LAAG is not going away any time soon.

Originally published Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Carson bust nets ton of fireworks
By Larry Altman
Staff Writer

Deputies seized more than a ton of illegal fireworks and arrested seven people in a pre-Independence Day crackdown at a Carson house over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

In a separate case, deputies discovered about 200 pounds of illegal fireworks and arrested a Carson man who unwittingly sold some to undercover deputies he met on the Internet.

In the first case, deputies from the Lakewood sheriff's station working a fireworks task force developed information that led them to a house in the 22200 block of Marbella Avenue.

"We suspected them of supplying the fireworks to people, including residents in the community," sheriff's Lt. Terry Benjestorf said.

Undercover deputies purchased illegal fireworks from someone who had obtained them at the Marbella house, and conducted surveillance operations there, he said.

After stopping a car with three occupants leaving the house, deputies discovered they had a significant amount of fireworks.

They returned to the house, served a search warrant early Saturday and discovered 2,000 pounds of illegal fireworks.

"It's illegal from the standpoint they are not safe and sane, fire-marshal approved," Benjestorf said. "They are aerial-type rockets and firecrackers."

Benjestorf described the Marbella residence as a "supply house." Other people purchased fireworks there to resell.

"It's very dangerous," Benjestorf said. "When you consider that on average about 20 to 25 percent of the gross weight of any pyrotechnic device is the explosive powder."

Deputies arrested two adults at the house, in addition to four people and a teenager in cars leaving the residence.

Their names were not immediately available.

In the second case Sunday night, Carson deputies arrested Gerald Castaneda, 27, after he allegedly sold illegal fireworks to undercover officers he met through an Internet site.

"We set up a sting operation and we contacted an individual who was willing to sell us fireworks," Carson sheriff's Sgt. Chris Perez said. "We met him in the city of Carson and he showed up with a quantity of illegal fireworks."

Although safe-and-sane fireworks are allowed in Carson, aerial and artillery-type fireworks are not.

Deputies searched Castaneda's house on J Street and discovered 150 to 200 pounds of illegal fireworks, Perez said.

The 1,000 pieces included large mortars and rockets.


Nearly Five Tons Of Illegal Fireworks Seized From LA Area Homes
Illegal Explosives Found In Watts, Carson Homes

video http://video.knbc.com/player/?id=125628

POSTED: 8:08 am PDT July 3, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Nearly five tons of illegal fireworks were recovered from homes in Watts and Carson in separate raids over the weekend, authorities said.

At least two people were facing possible charges of possession and distribution of illegal fireworks following the seizure of more than 6,000 pounds of the contraband at a Watts residence Sunday, authorities said.

A multi-agency investigation led to the seizure at 1250 E. 100th St., near Central Avenue, about 8:40 Sunday night, said D'Lisa Davies of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fireworks were found primarily in a garage and van at the location, she said.

Los Angeles Fire Department arson investigators were notified Sunday about 4 p.m. by Compton Fire Department arson investigators about the illegal sale and distribution of fireworks from a Los Angeles home, Officer Mike Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department's Media Relations Section.

The Compton investigators had followed a white Chevrolet van to the home after spotting a van that had been used earlier to sell fireworks in various area parks.

They had also watched individuals unloading boxes of fireworks and stacking them in the back yard, Lopez said.

LAFD arson investigators were dispatched and discovered that the home was actually in an unincorporated area and the van was gone.

A license plate and description of the van was given to the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division. The van was located at 8:15 p.m. after it returned to the original residence.

A woman was standing outside the van when authorities arrived. They asked the driver if they could look inside the van and when she gave them verbal consent, they found about 200 pounds of illegal fireworks, Lopez said.

Los Angeles police then detained the woman while the LAPD's Criminal Conspiracy Section, the bomb squad and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were notified.

The home's owner gave written consent and officials searched the garage where the bomb squad removed 6,325 pounds of the contraband.

Los Angeles County arson officials also became involved because the home was in an unincorporated area. However, the Los Angeles police and fire departments remained the lead agencies because they were already on scene, Lopez said.

The two suspects were scheduled to be arrested for possession and sales of illegal fireworks, Lopez said.

The LAPD will handle the evidence of fireworks and the fire department will hand the arrest and filing of the case, he said.

The arrests in Watts followed the arrest of seven people, including one juvenile, in a Carson home the previous day.

More than a ton -- 2,400 pounds -- were recovered at a Carson residence early Saturday morning in the 22200 block of Marbella Avenue, said Lt. Terry Benjestorf of the Lakewood Sheriff's Station.

Members of the Lakewood Fireworks Suppression Task Force conducted the investigation, Benjestorf said.

Benjestorf told NBC4 that two men originally approached undercover sheriff's investigators and "attempted to sell them a large quantity of illegal fireworks.

Both raids prevented what could have been major problems.

In the case of the Watts arrest, one county firefighter said that "if an ignition source was introduced to that amount of fireworks, you would have a devastating effect on the neighborhood."

Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief John Miller said with weather conditions as they are, the danger of explosion was "severe. I can't stress that enough. Severe. The smallest spark would cause a catastrophe we haven't seen in a long time."

Names of the suspects in the cases have not been released.

No comments: