The Nassau County Police Department improperly issued gun licenses to people who should not have had them, including one to a politically connected campaign worker with a history of domestic violence issues, a Newsday investigation found.
The department acknowledged that its own ongoing audit uncovered that more than two dozen people received licenses that have since been downgraded or suspended. The department declined to provide details about the people identified in the audit.
Brandon J. Irizarry, who last year worked for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's re-election campaign and the failed third-party bid of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, received a gun license in 2012, despite records showing police responded to six domestic incidents at his Farmingdale home between 2009 and 2012. Irizarry also had been the subject of at least two orders of protection and had been ordered by a judge to attend a domestic violence program, according to records.
The department's pistol license handbook calls for a "proactive stance against domestic violence" and the immediate surrender of a gun license and handguns after an incident of domestic abuse or an order of protection. The handbook also states that a license can be denied because of moral character or "good cause."
Irizarry received what's known as a full carry pistol license, giving him the right to carry a gun at all times, a privilege typically reserved for retired law enforcement officers.
Irizarry is not a former officer. Only 19 individuals who are not retired officers hold a full carry license in Nassau County, according to department statistics.
Irizarry's ability to get a coveted full carry license is also notable because of his role, and his ties to many of the key figures, in the political controversy that led to the ouster last year of former Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.
While working for Hardwick's campaign in October, Irizarry gave Nassau Police Sgt. Salvatore Mistretta a civil subpoena drafted by the campaign, Mistretta has said. Mistretta served it on Randy White, a witness in an election case Democrats had brought against Hardwick over the validity of ballot signatures.
At the time, Mistretta was commander of the department's pistol license section, where he supervised the gun license application process.
A person reading Irizarry's application documents told Newsday that a form includes a handwritten note that says Irizarry's approval for a full carry license came "as per Commissioner Dale," and the note is initialed "S.M." Such a notation is not typical, and the initials are Mistretta's, the person said.
An investigation into the election case by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice found that Dale and Chief of Detectives John Capece improperly intervened in the dispute at the request of Gary Melius, the owner of Oheka Castle catering hall and hotel who bankrolled Hardwick's county executive campaign. Melius was shot and seriously wounded in February by an assailant who is still at large.
Democrats have alleged that Melius, a Mangano supporter, backed Hardwick in an attempt to take votes away from Democratic candidate Thomas Suozzi.
Though Rice stated in a Dec. 12 letter to Mangano that Dale and Capece had committed no crime in the White case, both men left the department.
Rice said the subpoena Mistretta served was "deeply troubling" and that her office was continuing to investigate Mistretta, who retired shortly before Rice issued her findings.
Rice's spokesman, Shams Tarek, said the Mistretta investigation is ongoing.
Parties at Oheka Castle
Two people who know Mistretta and Irizarry said, on the condition of anonymity, that the pair are close friends who frequented Friday night parties at Oheka Castle.
The parties drew people from Long Island politics, business and law enforcement — including Dale — for dinner, cocktails and cigars but stopped around the time Rice opened her investigation, according to one of the sources, who also attended the parties.
Mistretta and Irizarry were also listed on a campaign flier as two of four people to contact about an Oct. 28 Mangano fundraiser at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said hundreds of people worked on Mangano's campaign and that nobody in the county executive's office exerted influence over the pistol permit process.
Irizarry, Dale and Mistretta all declined to comment. Robert La Reddola, an attorney who represents both Irizarry and Mistretta, did not respond to requests for comment.
Nassau police spokesman Kenneth Lack declined to say why the department issued Irizarry a gun license, citing "an active Internal Affairs investigation" into the matter.
The department opened its Internal Affairs inquiry after department auditors began a review of gun licenses Dec. 16. Since the audit began, the department has reviewed 56 gun licenses, downgraded 26 and suspended two, Lack said. He declined to elaborate.
The department denied numerous Freedom of Information requests made by Newsday, among them gun license records, internal emails and the department's audit.
However, records show that police confiscated Irizarry's handguns and pistol license on Dec. 16. A source with knowledge of the case said Irizarry is appealing the decision.
A pistol license may be suspended or revoked for a number of reasons, including when a license holder is arrested, fails to report any arrest or conviction during the application process or is subject to a court order restraining him or her from harassing, stalking or threatening another person.
Licensing process slow
The Nassau Police Department's pistol license section is responsible for issuing three main types of gun licenses.
A target and hunting license restricts the holder to carrying a firearm to and from a gun range or hunting area. A business carry license is issued only when there's a demonstrated need for security and limits carrying privileges to business hours. A full carry permit lets holders have a gun with none of those restrictions.
The target and hunting license is the most common and easiest to obtain. The county has 14,762 active target and hunting licenses, 2,568 business carry licenses and 9,265 full carry licenses.
The gun license application process is notoriously rigorous and slow. A warning on the department's website states:
"Pistol Licenses will be processed as quickly as possible. Present waiting time is 6 months. We will send you notice as soon as your license is ready. PLEASE DO NOT CALL"
Anyone seeking a pistol license must file an application with a notarized signature, supply references, get fingerprinted and pass a background investigation. An applicant must have no prior conviction for a felony or other serious offense, according to the unit handbook.
Once the background investigation is complete, the supervisor of the pistol license section reviews the application and recommends whether a license should be approved. The police commissioner would then be responsible for final approval.
Mistretta ran the pistol license section from 2008 through 2013. According to Irizarry's gun license paperwork, he first applied for a target and hunting permit on April 24, 2012, and was fingerprinted on May 3.
That is "lightning fast," said James Murtha, a Babylon attorney who successfully sued the department in 2012 over delays of up to 18 months in issuing gun licenses. Murtha said the wait for fingerprints is what usually stalls the approval process.
"From the time you submit the application to the time you get fingerprinted, it usually takes months," Murtha said.
In a June 2012 letter to Murtha, Dale wrote that expediting gun applications could jeopardize public safety.
"I do not believe relaxing the standards for conducting pistol license applications would further the public safety interests of Nassau County," Dale wrote. "The department's present pistol permit policy has served its residents well."
Irizarry received his gun license on Nov. 20, 2012, roughly seven months after he applied.
Department records show that police responded to a September 2012 domestic incident at Irizarry's home, less than two months before he got his license.
On Feb. 26, 2013, Irizarry upgraded his security guard license with the New York Department of State from unarmed to armed. A few weeks later, Mistretta upgraded Irizarry's gun license to a full carry license.
Asked why the state granted an armed security guard license to someone with Irizarry's history of domestic violence issues, New York Department of State spokesman Edison Alban responded by saying the department is opening an investigation into what happened with Irizarry's case.
"If we are able to confirm this information through an investigation then the Department may call for a hearing to consider whether any of his licenses should be revoked," Alban wrote in an email.