"It's a rotten way to do business. I had the greatest respect for Maryland, but now I think they are rotten like everyone else," said Frank Lofton, a retired Virginia Social Security worker.

Lofton was one of about a dozen people stopped yesterday afternoon at a fireworks stakeout on the Maryland side of the Gov. Harry Nice Memorial Bridge, which carries Rte. 301 between Virginia and Charles County, Md.

The fireworks confiscated in each case, mostly small items such as pinwheels and nonexploding devices, were legal where bought -- at a roadside stand about two miles into Virginia -- but illegal in Maryland, which has the region's toughest fireworks laws.

Undercover officers of the Maryland fire marshal's office, equipped with binoculars and stationed near the Virginia fireworks stand, saw the purchases and radioed to their colleagues, who made the arrests when the cars crossed the bridge.

When the cars were stopped, officials confiscated the fireworks and took drivers' identification so they can decide later whether to prosecute.

Some motorists were openly frustrated. "It's a pretty sneaky thing to do," said Larry Summers who was traveling with his two children, ages 7 and 3, from Killeen, Tex., to Massachusetts on a family vacation. "I bought them for my kids as a surprise and hid them in the car. In Texas these things are all completely legal," he said moments after being nabbed.

One Maryland resident who had $20 worth of fireworks confiscated said that this was the first time he had ever bought fireworks for his three young boys. "My kids bugged me so bad this year, I had to buy them. When I get home I'm going to tell them they cost me $20," he said.

In Maryland only the possession or sale of gold-labeled sparklers are allowed by law, except in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties where all fireworks are illegal. Virginia laws, however, are less stringent.

Starting about last July 4, Maryland and Virginia fire and police departments have cooperated in setting up a stakeout to catch motorists trying to take fireworks into Maryland. So far, the state has logged about two dozen confiscations, compared with 128 last year, officials said.

On the Virginia side, a man selling fireworks from a Texaco station criticized the crackdown. "I guess these {Maryland officials} are not proud to be Americans. It's a shame that Maryland has taken it upon itself not to celebrate" the Fourth of July, said the merchant, who would not give his name.

Almost all the motorists stopped said they were unaware that the fireworks were illegal in Maryland.

"There should be a sign somewhere saying the fireworks are illegal. If we had seen something like that, we wouldn't have bought them," said Jacqueline Davis of Mitchellville, Md., who had $15 worth seized.

Mitchell and other fire officials said that they expect warning signs to be put up next year on the Maryland side. "It's asking a bit much for us to put up a sign on Virginia soil," he said. Two of those caught, Burt Owens, 20, of Glen Burnie, and Jeff Carter, 20, of Dayton, Tex., indicated after having $20 worth of fireworks confiscated that they'd be back for more. "It's a stupid law. If you read the labels and know how to use them, there should be no problem. {The police} ruined my weekend," Carter said.