Indiana Businessman Found Guilty of Illegally Selling Professional Display Fireworks To Consumers

June 26, 2002
Release Number: 02188

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is announcing that an Indiana businessman faces up to 35 years in federal prison and a $1,000,000 fine after an Indiana jury found him guilty of selling display fireworks to consumers. CPSC played a critical role in the three-year investigation and four-day trial, which culminated in a guilty verdict on June 20, 2002.

Kenneth B. Shearer, 44, of Toledo, Ohio, was convicted of illegally selling and receiving in interstate commerce display fireworks, which are classified as explosives under federal law. Display fireworks, which are used legally by professionals in fireworks shows, are highly regulated products that can only be sold by individuals with a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) license.

Shearer, who operates All American Professional Fireworks, a fireworks retailer in Angola, Indiana, was found guilty of dealing in display fireworks without an ATF license. Shearer was also found guilty of intentionally putting false hazard labels on cartons of fireworks. These labels hid the fact that the fireworks were powerful display devices that could mass detonate if there were an accident while they were being transported on the nation's highways.

"These illegal fireworks could have maimed or killed numerous people on our nation's highways if they had detonated while being transported. These fireworks could have also placed a family in jeopardy if they attempted to set one off in their backyard," stated CPSC Acting Chairman Thomas Moore. "The lengthy prison sentence that could be handed down in this case should send a strong message that illegal fireworks are explosives and their distributors will be pursued and prosecuted."

CPSC and ATF began a joint investigation in June 1999. The investigation uncovered evidence that Shearer had used a straw purchaser to acquire over $25,000 worth of display fireworks, which are explosive materials. Using his legal consumer fireworks business as a front, Shearer sold the display fireworks for as much as a 500 percent profit to roadside fireworks stands in the Midwest.

CPSC sets national safety standards for fireworks. The most dangerous kinds of fireworks, such as M-80s, quarter-sticks and half- sticks, are banned under federal law. It is illegal to sell professional, display fireworks to consumers.

Display fireworks may not be sold to unlicensed consumers because they present serious hazards to the user and innocent bystanders. Display fireworks present a mass detonation hazard that prohibits their storage near public highways or inhabited buildings. Shearer stored the illegal display fireworks at a public storage center and in a trailer behind his retail store in Angola, Ind. In addition, Shearer removed Department of Transportation cautionary labels that alert emergency personnel that, "in the event of a fire, the area should be evacuated by one-half mile in all directions."

CPSC's investigators and trial attorneys, the Department of Justice's Office of Consumer Litigation, the ATF, and United States Attorney's Office in Ft. Wayne, Ind., worked diligently on this case. CPSC will continue to actively work with the ATF and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those who attempt to manufacture or sell illegal fireworks.

Shearer is scheduled to be sentenced on September 16, 2002, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, in Fort Wayne, Ind.