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Indiana Businessman Sentenced to Over Six Years in Federal Prison for Illegally Selling Professional Fireworks To Consumers

Release Date: November 10, 2003

Note added on March 20, 2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed Kenneth Shearer's prison sentence on March 12, 2007.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) played a critical role in the investigation that resulted in an Indiana businessman being sentenced today to 80 months in federal prison for selling professional fireworks to consumers. This sentence represents the longest prison term ever imposed against an individual investigated by the CPSC.

U.S. District Court Judge William C. Lee sentenced 44-year-old Kenneth B. Shearer, of Toledo, Ohio, for his role in illegally receiving and selling in interstate commerce display fireworks, which under federal law are classified as explosives for use by professionals. Shearer, who was convicted on June 20, 2002, was also fined $10,000 and sentenced to three years of supervised release.

"The CPSC and our partners in law enforcement have had a very successful year of tracking down and shutting down illegal roadside stands, warehouses and retail stores throughout the Midwest that sell professional grade explosives to consumers," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "The lengthy prison sentence handed down today should send a strong message that anyone involved in making or selling illegal fireworks will be pursued and prosecuted."

"Our office is concerned about the safety of the citizens of the Northern District, not only with respect to traditional crimes of violence and drug distribution, but also those crimes that affect the sale and distribution of consumer products," said Joseph S. Van Bokkelen, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. "We were pleased to participate in this prosecution and will assist the CPSC in vigorously prosecuting individuals or corporations that attempt to sell or distribute defective or dangerous products to citizens of this district. We will also prosecute anyone who knowingly and unlawfully circumvents or attempts to circumvent the rules, regulations and statutes designed to protect consumers."

"We are pleased with the success of this joint investigation with CPSC and the US Attorney because it helps insure the safety of our citizens," said Christopher Sadowski, Special Agent in Charge of ATF operations in Ohio and Indiana. "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is committed to protecting our communities from the dangers of illicit explosives."

Display fireworks, which are used legally by professionals in fireworks shows, are highly regulated explosives that can only be sold by individuals with a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Shearer, who operated 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.

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 and investigates individuals who violate the Federal Hazardous Substances Act by selling illegal fireworks to consumers. The most dangerous kinds of fireworks, such as M-80s, quarter-sticks and half-sticks, are banned under the FHSA. 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 cooperatively on this case.

Release Number
04-030

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.

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