Undercover police raid Chinatown store for illegal fireworks

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Police say it's illegal fireworks season in San Francisco Chinatown with only days to July 4th.

Officers gave KTVU exclusive access to their undercover operation as they made what they describe as a "major" bust.

The jewelry and variety store at 914 Grant Avenue near Washington, in the heart of Chinatown, is where police conducted its raid.

The sight and sound of fireworks going off in the days leading up to the Fourth of July is common in Chinatown. Meanwhile, people from all over the Bay Area are coming to Chinatown to try to buy illegal fireworks.

"Not to buy. Not to play...too dangerous," said Carina Lee, owner of Vital Tea-Life.

The shop owner tells KTVU that's what she says to visitors who come into her store asking where they can buy fireworks. But police say there are plenty of people who are selling.

"Fireworks were being sold in caches, garbage cans and alleys," said Police Lieutenant Brien Hoo.

Less than 15 minutes into KTVU'S ride along with police, undercover officers say they caught three young men who had just purchased illegal fireworks.

They told police where they bought them - the store on 914 Grant Avenue.

"This storefront was used to store fireworks and to sell illegal fireworks and we have consent from the owner to search the premise," said Lieutenant Hoo. Police moved in and confiscated boxes and boxes filled with about 1,000 pounds of illegal fireworks which included a variety of rockets and barrel bombs.

The owner, who told KTVU his name is Li Kok Keung, was arrested.

In Cantonese he tells KTVU he can't afford to pay the thousands of dollars in rent for his space inside the shop, and that other merchants are also selling fireworks.

Li says he bought them off the Internet.

Police say there's a new trend. Illegal fireworks are now being sold from what appears to be legitimate businesses instead of from alleyways and car trunks.

"This is surprising news to me about selling from stores," said Lieutenant Hoo.

Wednesday night's bust is the second in three days.

Three men were arrested on Monday for sales and possession of illegal fireworks at another store in Chinatown.
Police say their undercover crackdown will last through July 4th.