If you’re even slightly tempted to buy or sell illegal fireworks for this Fourth of July, you might want to listen to what happened to one Lancaster couple first.
Jesus Alfonso Lives in Lancaster with his wife Rachel. He’s the son of undocumented immigrants who brought him to the United States when he was five. He grew up to live the American dream. He married the love of his life and had three children. They bought a house and he had a good job as a concrete finisher. Then the recession hit.
"When the economy went downhill, my job went downhill and financially everything was, you know, really hard for us," Jesus said.
Jesus and Rachel were struggling last summer — but they were celebrating too: Jesus had finally been granted legal residency in the U.S. He’d gone back to Mexico to apply — but now he was back home and excited about his first Independence Day as a legal immigrant.
"So it was a big event for us, right? A coworker of mine always buys fireworks for the Fourth of July, celebrates, has a blast with his grandkids, his kids and everybody," Jesus said. "And I thought of buying fireworks for myself and just celebrating Fourth of July."
So last June, he went to Nevada and bought several boxes of fireworks, even though he knew they were illegal in California.
"Popping them on Fourth of July with my family, odds are they’re just gonna come, confiscate the fireworks and just give me a warning or something."
Excited about his fireworks and unable to wait for the Fourth of July, Jesus lit some of them for his friends at a Father’s Day BBQ.
"Everybody was, 'Oh, my God, you got all these fireworks and I want some. I want some!' That’s where it all began."
The couple had a yard sale and said, “Why not sell the fireworks?”
"We didn’t really know how big a deal this was to have illegal fireworks," said Rachel. "We put them out there. We sold all of them and made like $400 on the yard sale.
"Four hundred dollars for something I spent less than $200 on was like, whoa! Easy money,” said Jesus.
So he went back to Nevada and bought as many fireworks as he could fit in his small pickup truck.
"And that’s where I made a big mistake. I was so greedy that they were selling so quick, and I really wanted to get rid of them and get some more, that I put them on Craigslist."
When he went to Craigslist, Jesus says he found about a dozen other fireworks ads from several different cities, including Pasadena, San Fernando and Long Beach
"So I said, 'Why not be a Lancaster ad?' What’s the worst that can happen?'"
Undercover L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Jesus Alfonso at a gas station where he was going to make a sale. They seized 300 pounds of illegal fireworks from his garage and put them on display for the local TV station and newspaper.
"The newspaper article came out the next day," said Rachel. "Front page."
Jesus was charged with a felony. That could have cost him his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. But to his wife Rachel’s relief, the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Jesus pleaded guilty, spent two months in jail and paid $6,000 in fines, $7,000 in legal fees, and several thousand more in other expenses.
After Rachel bailed him out, Jesus put a second ad on Craigslist – but this one was part confession, part cautionary tale.
"I was selling fireworks. I got busted and I’m facing a felony, $6,000 in city fines and all the stuff that it was."
And like his first ad, the second one also got a big reaction.
"I’d check my e-mail, and sure enough a lot of people were saying, 'Thank you. I didn’t know.'"
But now they do. And so do we.
"The message," said Jesus, is "Don’t sell fireworks."
"A $22,000 lesson," said Rachel.
"Too much," according to Jesus. "We obviously didn’t make any profit there!"
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