Jury convicts gun dealer

Man, 55, let child sleep near loaded weapons

Prison time and fines possible

State police seized dozens of firearms from home

Carroll County

April 29, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Mount Airy gun dealer Amir H. Tabassi was found guilty by a jury last night of keeping loaded weapons in his home within arm's reach of a sleeping 12-year-old girl.

Jurors deliberated three hours after a three-day trial in Carroll County Circuit Court before returning the verdict against Tabassi, 55 -- convicting him on most of the charges lodged by state police after officers with a search warrant seized 111 weapons and firearm accessories at his home Aug. 5.

State police testified during the trial that they found unsecured weapons on a bed and in closets, dresser drawers and a duffel bag. Some of the guns were loaded.

Tabassi, of the 5000 block of Ridge Road, had been charged with 11 counts of allowing a child access to loaded firearms, one count of reckless endangerment and one count of carrying a weapon in a vehicle -- all misdemeanors.

The six women and six men on the jury began deliberating just before 5 p.m. and returned guilty verdicts on every charge except transporting a weapon in a vehicle.

Among the weapons Tabassi kept in the same room as the child were a 9 mm H&K MP5 submachine gun, a Taurus PT25 semiautomatic pistol and a .40-caliber Glock 23, which was found on the bed where she was sleeping.

He could receive up to five years in jail for the reckless endangerment charges. The child-access charges carry a $1,000 fine each.

Retired Prince George's County Circuit Judge Vincent J. Femia, who presided over the trial, ordered a pre-sentence investigation but did not schedule a sentencing hearing, pending another trial Tabassi faces on reckless endangerment charges. That also has yet to be scheduled.

Tabassi sighed and frowned as the jury forewoman read the verdicts. His attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment.

But a woman who is engaged in a legal battle with Tabassi over visitation rights involving their two young children smiled.

"Justice has finally been done," said Michiko Brand, who lived with Tabassi for six years and had been subpoenaed by prosecutors at her home in Tennessee.

Standing with her young son and daughter at the back of the courtroom, Brand said she had always been apprehensive about Tabassi and the guns. "I'm not surprised at the charges, but I am thrilled at the outcome."

In testimony, Tabassi explained why the house, described by state troopers as a "complete mess," was cluttered with clothes, toys and guns. He said the house was infested with fleas; he had lost his lease on a gun store in Hagerstown and was moving his inventory to his home, and also packing guns for a firearms training session in Tennessee.

Tabassi, testifying in his defense, said that he carried loaded firearms with what he believed was a valid permit. State police said the permit had expired. State police also seized a loaded Glock Model 27 handgun from the man's red 1992 Mazda Protege the day he was arrested.

"My house is a shop with a lot of inventory that a lot of bad people want to get their hands on," Tabassi said yesterday, on cross-examination. "I have to protect the area, and if something happened I should be able to pick up a weapon and defend myself."

He estimated the value of the guns in his home to be $150,000.

Femia ruled last month that most of the weapons had to be returned to Tabassi and could not be used as evidence.

Weapons found in his bedroom, where troopers woke the sleeping 12-year-old girl Tabassi described as the younger sister of a female houseguest, and 11 machine guns found in the bedroom across the hall were allowed as evidence.

State police said last night that, with Tabassi's conviction, he would be required to give up all the weapons.

On Tuesday, state police Detective Sgt. Michael Brady testified that Tabassi told him during the search that he had sent the girl to his bedroom to rest because it was the only room not infested with fleas.

Closing arguments yesterday focused on whether Tabassi was criminally responsible for placing the girl in harm's way. Defense attorney Eric W. Schaffer told the jury that his client was not a reckless man and that Tabassi took the appropriate steps in securing the weapons and educating houseguests about firearm safety.

A witness from the Maryland Police Training Commission testified earlier that no training certificates were ever received for the woman and girl found at Tabassi's house.

Schaffer said the guns found in Tabassi's home were complex machines that needed "advanced manipulation" before they could be fired, even if they were loaded. He also argued that Tabassi did not leave the girl unsupervised; she was left with her 28-year-old sister.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Budlow removed several weapons from boxes stacked in a mail cart. He leaned one against the cart and another against the witness stand and then held each of them as he addressed the jury.

"The defense counsel says `advanced manipulation' like it's some fancy term," Budlow said. "All you have to do is pull the slide and pull the trigger. That's it. If they look scary to you, that's because you know what they're capable of doing."

"Amir Tabassi doesn't think he did anything wrong. That's why we're here," Budlow said. "He doesn't get it. The evidence shows Amir Tabassi to be an extremely reckless person."

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