HONOLULU - Federal agents executed two search warrants here Friday morning and arrested a local man in connection with an ongoing fireworks smuggling investigation tied to a deadly explosion in a storage bunker earlier this month in Waikele Gulch.
Gifford Chang, 44, of Honolulu, was taken into custody by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Chang is charged in a federal criminal complaint filed Friday with smuggling goods into the United States; making false statements to illegally bring goods into the country; and importing explosive material without a license, all occurring in Dec. 2009.
Florence T. Nakakuni, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii, said that according to the affidavit filed with the complaint, Chang was the registered agent for Tiger Corporation, the listed importer of four groups of cartons in a shipping container which were determined to contain 1.3G type "commercial fireworks." Chang and Tiger Corporation were licensed to import "consumer grade" fireworks (1.4G type), but neither had the requisite license to import 1.3G type fireworks.
The affidavit further related that as part of the investigation HSI seized these fireworks, which were, except for some samples, destroyed in an explosion at a Waikele Gulch storage bunker April 8.
Chang's arrest is the latest development in an ongoing joint investigation by ICE HSI and ATF into the illegal importation of fireworks into Hawaii. The investigation began in Dec. 2009 after officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered the fireworks in a shipping container arriving in Honolulu from Shanghai, China.
"This month's deadly explosion was a tragic reminder about the profound dangers of illegally imported fireworks," said Wayne Wills, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Honolulu. "Unfortunately, we're seeing a growing volume of illegal fireworks being smuggled into Hawaii. Given the public safety risks, targeting those involved in these activities is a top priority for HSI and its law enforcement partners."
"ATF shares those sentiments. The public must remember, all fireworks contain explosive materials that pose a serious hazard when not properly handled," said Jordan Lowe, resident agent in charge of ATF's Honolulu field office. "The ATF will continue to aggressively enforce the nation's federal explosives laws."
Chang is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court Friday afternoon. If indicted and convicted of the charges, he faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison for smuggling, two years for making false statements, and 10 years for importing explosives without a license.
Charges in a complaint are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until indicted and proven guilty.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney William L. Shipley.
To report suspicious activity, call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1-866-347-2423 or visit www.ice.gov.