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Bail set at $24 million as crackdown continues
illegal fireworks 2
Some of the 400 pounds of illegal fireworks seized in Lathrop.

Law enforcement is upping the ante as people are becoming more brazen selling — and launching — illegal fireworks that are so powerful they are classified under the law as explosives.

Lathrop Police Services arrested 35-year-old Markus Monroe, who was allegedly attempting to sell more than 100 pounds of fireworks to an undercover officer. Among the items were 49 “M-1000” explosives that resulted in individual felony charges for each item and culminated with a bail amount of more than $24 million.

 “You can’t just outright advertise illegal fireworks for sale because the ads would be taken down, so what these guys were doing was selling things that were legitimate and would have the aerial and explosive fireworks on display behind the item and would negotiate the price in the conversation back and forth,” said Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann. “We want people to enjoy the holiday, but we want them to do it in a way that is safe and in a fashion that isn’t going to hurt anyone. When you’re talking about these M-1000 devices there is a huge potential that they could harm people and severely damage property.”

Law enforcement in Ripon, Lathrop, and Manteca will be out in force using technology and the host law to nail renters or homeowners for citations of up to $1,000 for launching illegal fireworks.

There will be a lot fewer illegal fireworks on Lathrop streets for Independence Day this year.

Approximately 400 pounds less, to be specific.  Manteca has seized several hundred pounds of illegal fireworks as well.

For the last week, the Lathrop Manteca Fire District and Lathrop Police Services have been running a buy-bust sting operation hoping to take the providers of the illegal fireworks that cause so many problems this time of year off the street before the holiday – potentially saving lives and or property in the process.

By scanning online ads posted to sites like Craigslist and OfferUp investigators were able to make contact and organize purchases of illegal good from four individuals who thought they were flying under the radar by selling legitimate items with the fireworks in the background of the image they provided with the ad.

“There’s no value for those kinds of things – they’re meant to only destroy things – and we want to get those off the street before they hurt themselves or someone else.”

Biedermann said that he knows that the busts aren’t enough to eliminate the problem that he says is caused by the easy money for those who are willing to go out-of-state to purchase them and bring them back, but believes that busts like the ones carried out this week will send a message that officers are actively searching for those breaking the law and taking them out of business before they can provide materials that can cause injury or even death when used improperly.

The joint operation paired together the agency tasked with criminal enforcement with the agency responsible for treating injuries and putting out the fires that illegal fireworks are often tied to – an opportunity, Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely said, to maximize resources when they’re needed most.

“It’s really hard in the age of COVID to get resources committed for special operations like this, but we had been working  little bit together and decided that it would be beneficial for both of us to team up, and one we got on a roll and got committed it just all started to click,” Neely said. “We dedicated a couple of guys and they dedicated a couple of guys and we were able to put a dent in the sales of illegal fireworks and get them off the street.”

Neely said that it has been an active year for both safe-and-sane and illegal fireworks, likely due to the fact that most aerial fireworks displays were cancelled when COVID numbers started to spike – adding that sales at the safe-and-sane booth staffed by his agency were selling twice as many fireworks as they did last year.

The two agencies will continue their joint operation with live patrols through the weekend to try and catch those violating the city’s ordinance against legal fireworks – relying on both the app that allows for residents to turn in violators and the on-the-street work of deputies and firefighters trying to stamp out the problem.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.