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Federal indictment alleges Alexandria man skirted gun sale law


ALEXANDRIA BAY — A town of Alexandria man faces a federal indictment alleging he knowingly sold two guns intended for a man whose purchase initially was denied after a criminal background check.

Louis R. Panunzio, who operates Panunzio’s Gun Shop at his residence at 46559 Route 37, Hammond, was named in a four-count indictment handed up May 9 in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, charging him with making false statements in his records, which he is required under federal regulations to keep as a firearms licensee.

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 prior to 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 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 had previously 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 actually being an undercover investigator. After the information was provided to the background check system, a sale of a .30-06 caliber bolt-action rifle to her 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 semi-automatic rifle.

According to the complaint, Mr. Panunzio sold the firearms while knowingly allowing the “straw buyer” to complete the federal firearm purchasing documentation and undergo background checks “to hide the true identity of the actual prohibited buyer.”

Mr. Panunzio, who has been a gun dealer for more than 40 years, waived his right to be present Tuesday at his arraignment on the indictment, entering not guilty pleas to the charges through his attorney, Anthony M. Neddo, Watertown. He remains free on his own recognizance, with a trial scheduled for July 16 in the matter.

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