SC man pleads to illegal gun sale

South Carolina pawn shop owner in NYC mayor lawsuit pleads guilty to selling gun to ex-convict

MEG KINNARD
AP News

Jan 09, 2009 17:52 EST

A South Carolina pawn shop owner accused by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg of recklessly selling a rifle to an ex-convict pleaded guilty Friday to a federal weapons charge.

Days before jury selection was set to begin in his trial, Larry Mickalis was sentenced to two years probation after pleading guilty to failing to keep appropriate firearms sales records, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said. In 2006, Bloomberg sued Mickalis and dozens of others, accusing them of illegally selling firearms to undercover investigators in a sting operation targeting dealers supplying many of the weapons used in New York City crimes.

Mickalis was charged last year in a South Carolina federal court with illegally selling a rifle to an ex-convict three years ago at his Mickalis Pawn Shop in Summerville. If he had been convicted of that felony, Mickalis could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Mickalis' attorney, Andy Savage, said his client was pleased the case was over. Savage has said previously his client did not remember the sale, which he said involved a woman who purchased a gun for a boyfriend with a criminal record.

Bloomberg's pending lawsuit, which named gun dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, asks the court to halt the sales and require close monitoring and seeks damages and compensation.

The mayor said Friday that the guilty plea "is an acknowledgment of what we have long contended: it's a small group of dealers who are providing the guns used in crimes. It is important to hold those dealers accountable for the harm they cause New Yorkers and others."

Bloomberg's lawsuit singled out dealers based on data linking weapons sold in those shops to hundreds of crimes in New York City from 1994 to 2001. Private investigators wore hidden cameras and attempted "straw purchases," in which one person fills out forms and makes the purchase for someone else.

The scam, prohibited by federal law, is typically used by people who cannot own firearms, like convicted felons.

The city said undercover investigators entered stores in two-person teams, usually a man and a woman. While the woman roamed the store and acted uninterested, the man made all the inquiries about the gun and made it clear he was the buyer. When it came time to make the purchase, the woman would step up to fill out the paperwork.

Most dealers refused the sale, but those named in the lawsuit allowed it, and Bloomberg called them "the worst of the worst."

Mickalis later sued the mayor, the city and private investigators for slander, saying Bloomberg claimed Mickalis and the other shop owners "have New Yorkers' blood on their hands," according to the lawsuit.

Last year, both sides agreed to remove the slander lawsuit from the active docket in South Carolina state court in Berkeley County. Under court rules, Mickalis has until March to reinstate the claim. His attorney, Justin Kahn, said Friday there has been no decision on whether he will.

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Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler in New York contributed to this report.

Source: AP News