Bloomberg Straw Purchases
A federal judge said Friday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration did not commit a crime when it sent undercover investigators into gun shops to attempt illegal weapons purchases.
The city, which is suing the gun dealers, said the ruling was good news for its case, but the gun dealers believe it may also help their argument that they didn't do anything wrong either.
The sting operation was conducted two years ago as the basis for a civil lawsuit brought by the city against 27 gun dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia; Bloomberg targeted shops that the city believes are responsible for selling guns traced back to crimes in New York City.
Fifteen dealers have settled and agreed to let a special master monitor their sales, and a suit against several of the remaining 12 is proceeding in federal court in Brooklyn.
As part of the discovery process for the case, lawyers for some of the gun shops argued that the city had itself violated the law by attempting the illegal purchases.
Gun rights advocates and organizations like the National Rifle Association also have complained that Bloomberg's gun sting was a criminal stunt. And the Justice Department even did its own inquiry as to whether the city was out of bounds.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak said Friday the court had found "that the city's actions do not constitute a crime or fraud."
In the sting operation, private investigators hired by the city wore hidden cameras and attempted "straw purchases," where one person fills out the legal forms and buys the gun for someone else. The scam, prohibited by federal law, is typically employed by people who cannot own firearms, such as convicted felons.
Pollak agreed with the city's argument that the critical factor in a straw purchase is the intent of the buyer. And in the purchases made by the city's investigators, the buyer did not hand over the purchased gun later.
"No 'straw' sale took place because ownership was never transferred," the judge wrote.
Bloomberg's criminal justice coordinator, John Feinblatt, applauded the decision.
"What the court has said today is exactly what we've said _ the only people who broke the law here were dealers who engaged in straw
purchases," he said.
But an attorney for some of the defendants also welcomed the judge's ruling.
"Our side is getting stronger every day," said Carl Pierce. "These people engaging in these sales weren't doing anything illegal."