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Powerful Fireworks Ring Broken Up

July 2, 1999

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Authorities have now charged five people with running an illegal fireworks ring nearly a year after the death of a 17-year-old boy triggered an investigation.

The ring allegedly sold fireworks in several states ranging from $2 to $30, for a thousands of dollars in profits.

``We’re talking about an operation that sold, conservatively, hundreds of thousands of devices, and it may be in the millions,″ said Eric Stone, legal director of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Federal indictments unsealed Thursday charged Donald Peters, daughter Peggy Malueg and Charles Childers of selling, manufacturing and transporting illegal fireworks. Rodney Harris and Albert Castellano Jr. pleaded guilty to charges last month.

The indictments do not specify what the defendants are accused of selling. But authorities have seized more than four tons of illegal fireworks in Wisconsin over the past year, including more than 65,000 quarter-sticks, half-sticks, M-80s and other explosives illegal under federal law, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mario Gonzales said.

The charges carry penalties of 10 to 21 years in prison and fines up to $3 million.

State Attorney General James Doyle said an investigation began after Eric Pluger, 17, was killed last July 14 when he and his friends blew up a mailbox with a quarter-stick of dynamite, an illegal explosive.

Pluger died after his truck stalled and he was hit by metal flying from the exploding mailbox in Shiocton, Wis.

None of the five defendants was connected with the explosive that killed Pluger, Doyle said.

Additional investigations into illegal fireworks are underway in Wisconsin and across the country, said Alan Schoem, director of compliance for the safety commission.

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