Gun dealer sentenced to fine, probation

He avoids jail in case involving firearms left near sleeping girl

Mount Airy

September 01, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Mount Airy gun dealer convicted of keeping loaded firearms within arm's reach of a sleeping 12-year-old girl will not face jail time but will have to pay a $1,000 fine and serve one year of unsupervised probation.

The sentence will not go into effect until Friday, when the defendant, Amir H. Tabassi, 56, must choose between accepting the guilty verdict on his permanent record or accepting probation before judgment, a finding that could eventually be expunged from his record.

The first choice gives Tabassi a chance to appeal his case, but he gives up that right if he chooses the second option. Either way, he will have to pay the fine and serve the probation, the judge ruled.

Judge Vincent J. Femia, a retired Prince George's County judge, gave him the Friday deadline after Tabassi asked for more time to make a decision.

Tabassi's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, said his client wanted to explore the effect of both options on his firearms business, which has not been operating since he was arrested. Tabassi is worried he will no longer be able to operate his business if he forgoes his appeal, his lawyer said. An unsuccessful appeal would mean the end of his firearms business.

Femia also denied a defense motion for a new trial.

Tabassi, of the 5000 block of Ridge Road, was charged a year ago 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.

Jurors heard testimony for three days in April and deliberated for three hours before convicting Tabassi on all but one of the charges - carrying a weapon in a vehicle. The charges were filed after state troopers executed a search warrant and seized 111 weapons and firearm accessories at Tabassi's home Aug. 5 last year.

Among the weapons Tabassi kept in the same room as the child - described as a younger sister of Tabassi's female houseguest - 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 the girl was sleeping. State police testified during the trial that unsecured weapons - some loaded - were strewed on a bed and in closets, dresser drawers and a duffel bag.

Tabassi's young children - who are involved in a custody dispute - were also at the house for a few weeks before the search warrant was served.

In his trial testimony, Tabassi said he had lost his lease on a gun store in Hagerstown and was moving his inventory to his home. At that time, he said, he was also packing up guns for a firearms training session in Tennessee.

Clarence Goetz, an assistant attorney general, said prosecutors believed the severity of the situation warranted incarceration. Goetz said Tabassi's version of events contrasted sharply with state police, who testified that the gun dealer told them he had locked the bedroom and told the child not to enter it. Goetz said this showed an awareness of the danger posed by the loaded firearms.

At yesterday's hearing, Femia merged all the child access charges into one reckless endangerment charge, agreeing with defense attorney Bonsib that the charges were a reflection of the same conduct being applied to 11 different weapons, rather than 11 instances of reckless endangerment.

Calling the case "a study in duplicity from beginning to end," Femia found the state's case to be based on "a ruse" that drew Tabassi into an investigation of unregistered machine guns - later found to be lawfully registered with the federal government.

"Had the child not been in his bedroom, this case would be closed," Femia said. "This is a man who, in my opinion, impressed with his own importance, has made a dumb - possibly quite dangerous - mistake."

At the time of Tabassi's arrest, state troopers said they did not have access to federal records and did not find Tabassi's registration on the state database. Police also said they lured Tabassi to the Westminster barracks as a security measure, under the guise of an interview to be a confidential informant for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

During the sentencing hearing, Tabassi asked the judge for leniency.

"At no time did I have any intention to put anybody in danger," Tabassi told the judge. "I have already suffered a considerable amount."

Tabassi said the case has taken a toll on him and his new wife, who he said will give birth to their daughter within a few weeks. He complained of poor health, strained finances and not being able to see his two other children, who live in Tennessee with their mother.

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