Owners of businesses tied to DTLA explosion strike plea deals

Firefighters battle the blaze resulting from an explosion in downtown L.A. on May 16.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The owners of two smoking and vaping supply stores in downtown Los Angeles where a large explosion left several firefighters seriously injured struck plea deals with prosecutors Thursday that call for their businesses to pay more than $100,000 to the city.

As part of the agreement with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, the retail businesses, Smoke Tokes and Green Buddha, must pay the Los Angeles Fire Department roughly $127,000 to compensate the agency for the investigation into the May 16 blast, which rocked downtown L.A. In addition, Raheel Lakhany and Shafaq Sattar, who each owned one of businesses, agreed to cease operating at the location of the fire.

Charges against Lakhany and Sattar as individual defendants were dismissed as part of the deal. Instead, their businesses pleaded no contest to four municipal code violations involving the improper storage of flammable materials and other fire code violations.

The men and their businesses were charged as part of a sweeping criminal complaint filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office in August, which alleged 300 violations against them, the owner of the building where the stores were located, and other management firms associated with the location. A court hearing for the building owner, Steve Lee, was continued Thursday until February. A representative for Lee declined to comment.


More serious criminal charges could still be brought. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and, depending on their findings, investigators could recommend the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office file more charges. The ATF’s final report was still pending as of Thursday.

William Kroeger, a defense attorney representing Lakhany, Sattar and their businesses also declined comment outside the courtroom. The city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the agreement.

The May 16 explosion occurred in an area of downtown nicknamed “bong row” by police due to the concentration of retailers selling rolling papers, butane and other supplies associated with vaping and smoking. The blast shot a fireball into the air and left 11 firefighters seriously burned. Some of the firefighters are still recovering and have yet to return to work, and one captain was burned so badly that he lost the use of his hands and had to be hospitalized for more than two months.

In a report released earlier this year, the Fire Department determined the “excessive quantity” of nitrous oxide and butane containers inside Smoke Tokes fueled the fire, which damaged several other properties. The report also revealed that the LAFD had failed to inspect the building for at least a year prior to the blast. Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas has acknowledged that an inspection likely would have resulted in the seizure of many of the materials that fed the explosion.