SHABAZZ ADMITS WEAPON CHARGE
Activist had faced 16-count indictment, is to be sentenced to 2 years in prison
Ismail Shabazz, who pleaded guilty Friday in Ulster County Court to one count of attempted criminal sale of a weapon and admitted selling six illegal weapons to undercover federal agents, believed his actions would “get guns off the streets of Kingston” and into the hands of African liberation fighters, his attorney said.
Shabazz, 61, a Kingston civil rights activist, had faced a 16-count indictment for allegedly selling weapons to undercover FBI agents.
In pleading guilty to the lone felony count, Shabazz waived his right to appeal and is expected to be sentenced to two years in prison and three years of post-release supervision. The sentencing, by state Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally Jr., is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 10, 2017.
McNally was appointed to the case after Ulster County Judge Donald A. Williams recused himself in October 2015.
In court Friday, Shabazz admitted that, over the course of about a year, he sold undercover agents six illegal weapons from his home at 80 Prospect St. in Kingston. Under questioning by the judge and prosecutor, Shabazz said the weapons were a semiautomatic assault rifle, sold for $1,000; a .22-caliber pistol and a .32-caliber revolver, for a total of $1,500; and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, for $1,200; and a 12-gauge sawed-off pump-action shotgun, for $1,300. He said all of the weapons were in working condition and agreed he would not prevail with an entrapment defense at trial. Shabazz and his supporters have claimed entrapment since his arrest in June 2015.
Jury selection for Shabazz’s
trial was to begin next week.
“Mr. Shabazz’s role, as I’ve said from the beginning, was to get guns off the streets of Kingston,” his attorney, Michael Sussman of Goshen, said by phone Friday afternoon. The problem, Sussman said, is that the illegal weapon sales “clouded the purpose he was attempting to achieve.”
“What he was told by the federal [undercover] agents was that the guns were going to Africa to aid in a liberation struggle there,” Sussman said, conceding that Shabazz’s “noble” intent “does not legalize either the sale or possession of weapons.”
Sussman continued, “I do applaud Mr. Shabazz for taking responsibility . ... When you engage in illegal activity, it may be for a purpose you believe is noble, but it does not absolve responsibility.”
The prosecutor in the
case, Robert Knapp, said, “The evidence indicates that he (Shabazz) definitely was conducting these transactions strictly for monetary gain.”
In June, McNally removed the office of Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright from the prosecution because Carnright had represented Shabazz on several occasions when Carnright was a public defender.
The judge appointed the office of Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady to prosecute the case. Grady’s office was represented in court Friday by Knapp, a senior assistant district attorney.
Heather Abissi, a member of Sussman’s firm, represented Shabazz in court on Friday. She declined to comment after Friday’s court session.
Shabazz also declined to comment.
Before entering the courtroom
for the 25-minute hearing, Shabazz and Abissi walked slowly around the block surrounding the Uptown Kingston courthouse several times. He wore a gray trench coat, a gray turtleneck, dark khaki pants and a black skull cap.
There were about six attendees in the large courtroom for the proceeding at which Shabazz pleaded guilty.
Shabazz initially was charged with six counts of selling weapons to an FBI informant, nine counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of endangering the welfare of a child during the alleged sale of one illegal weapon. His attorney said previously that Shabazz was a victim of entrapment.
Had Shabazz been convicted of all of the charges he faced, Sussman said, he could have served “very substantially more time”
in prison. “We spent hours reviewing all the evidence available to us and concluded that this [plea bargain] was a favorable and fair resolution.”
Authorities alleged Shabazz sold weapons to undercover agents of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force on four occasions between May 2014 and May 2015 in his home at 80 Prospect St. in Kingston.
Prior to being removed from the case, Carnright said Shabazz became a person of interest in a federal investigation in 2013, when information was developed that Shabazz had recruited members of the Bloods street gang into the New Black Panthers Party in Kingston and was advocating violence against police officers.
On Friday, Shabazz supporters contested that claim, variously characterizing it as “libel,” “slanderous,” “disproven” and “unproven.”
Carnright could not be reached for comment Friday.
“We repudiated that at the time. We repudiate that again. That played no role,” Sussman said of Carnright’s statement. “We found nothing in lengthy reviews of the case ... that corroborates” his client’s recruitment of Bloods members.
Shabazz, who has been chairman of the Kingston chapter of Black Panthers for Justice and president and vice president of the Ulster County Chapter of the NAACP, is a frequent critic of police and has participated in demonstrations regarding attacks on black suspects by white officers in other cities.
The case was investigated by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, New York City police, the New Jersey State Police, the Kingston Police Department and the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office, authorities said.
Ismail Shabazz is shown in Ulster County Court on Friday shortly before entering his guilty plea.
Ismael Shabazz walks with defense attorney Heather Abissi outside the Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston before Friday’s proceeding.