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Hammond gun dealer fined $10K for “straw buyer” sale

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A town of Alexandria gun dealer has been fined $10,000 for selling guns to a “straw buyer” for a man whose purchase had been denied after a criminal background check.

Louis R. Panunzio, 83, who operates Panunzio’s Guns shop at his residence at 46559 Route 37, Hammond, was sanctioned Friday in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, but avoided any jail time that might have accompanied a June 3 guilty plea to making a false entry or representation with respect to information required for a firearms transaction by a licensed dealer. He could have faced up to a year in prison, but his attorney, Anthony M. Neddo, Watertown, argued in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court that a prison sentence would be unreasonable based on Mr. Panunzio’s age and lack of any previous criminal record.

According to court documents, an unidentified man came into Mr. Panunzio’s shop in March 2009 and inquired about buying a gun. The man filled out a form required by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before the purchase, but based on the information included in the form, the purchase was denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because the buyer was shown to be wanted in South Carolina on a fugitive warrant alleging that he passed bad checks and failed to appear to answer to a traffic offense.

Mr. Panunzio declined to sell the gun but allegedly told the man to “bring in somebody that can fill out the form to get it approved and they can sell the gun to you” and offered to hold the gun for the man.

The failed background check also prompted a notification to state police that someone wanted as a fugitive had tried to buy a gun in the area. At a point not specified in court documents, the man agreed to become a confidential informant for the ATF.

In November 2009, the informant returned to the shop with a female state police investigator posing as his girlfriend, who would act as a “straw buyer” for the man. Mr. Panunzio allegedly recognized the man as the person who previously had been denied a sale, but agreed to let the acquaintance fill out the required form.

Mr. Panunzio verified information on the form by examining the woman’s driver’s license, which contained fictitious information owing to her being an undercover investigator. After the information was provided to the background check system, the sale of a .30-06 caliber bolt-action rifle to the woman was approved.

The informant who had been denied the sale allegedly made it known to Mr. Panunzio that the gun was for him, telling him “there is always more than one way to skin a cat.” About two weeks later, the informant and the investigator returned to Mr. Panunzio’s shop and, using the same process, received permission for her to buy a .338-caliber semiautomatic rifle.

As part of Mr. Panunzio’s plea in June, he agreed to surrender his federal firearms license which he had held for more than 40 years. At sentencing Friday, four counts against him contained in a grand jury indictment handed up in May 2012 were dismissed.

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