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10 tons of fireworks seized at warehouse in latest big bust

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10 tons of fireworks seized in Pico Rivera follows 30-ton seizure in Monterey Park and 18 tons in Gardena
Authorities are seizing tons of illegal fireworks as July 4 approaches - Pico Rivera raid is latest

A stash of about 10 tons of illegal fireworks worth at least $100,000 was seized from a business in Pico Rivera on Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Detectives with the El Monte Police Department got a tip about fireworks sales and raided a building in the 4700 block of Citrus Drive about 2:30 p.m. They discovered what appeared to be a makeshift fireworks shop in a nearby trailer with fireworks that had been set up in displays.

The building is associated with a business called Thomas Brothers Tube Bending, a metal shop. The owner and employee were taken into custody, Lt. Chris Williams said.

"This business was so openly and blatantly selling illegal fireworks that even as we were dismantling the displays, people were coming up to buy," Williams said.

There have been two other large fireworks seizures over the last month and a half. About 30 tons of fireworks, worth an estimated $500,000, were discovered in a warehouse in an industrial area of Monterey Park last month.

Earlier this month, El Monte police arrested six people and confiscated 22 tons of fireworks from a building in the 13000 block of Halldale Avenue in Gardena.

El Monte police do not believe any of the three operations are connected, Williams said. But police believe that illegal fireworks stashes that originate in El Monte could be on sale at locations around the Southland. Police do not know where the fireworks came from, but the boxes recovered from both Pico Rivera and Monterey Park were stamped with the words "made in China."

It's common for criminal groups and drug dealers to shift gears and sell fireworks at a profit in the summer season, said Randy Harper, battalion chief with the Monterey Park Fire Department. The dealers are known to purchase the fireworks in neighboring states with looser restrictions and transport them to California in truckloads, Harper said.

The Monterey Park fireworks stash, which filled seven tractor-trailors, belonged to a company called USTL Incorporated, Harper said. The building where the fireworks were found has the same address as another company, called Top Luxor Trading Corp. Both businesses are associated with an individual named Jun Ming Chen, according to state business records.

About half of the fireworks seized in Monterey Park were too large and dangerous to be sold legally in California. Monterey Park officials are communicating with USTL Incorporated and may return the fireworks that can be legally sold in the state, Harper said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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