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Long IslandCrime

Elmont man who fired shots had modified illegal assault rifle, prosecutor says

Robert Hoenig was ordered held on $200,000 bond or $100,000 cash bail during his arraignment Tuesday morning before Judge Maxine Broderick in First District Court in Hempstead.

Robert Hoenig leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola

Robert Hoenig leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on Tuesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

An Elmont man who officials said shot off an illegal assault rifle he modified “to allow for machine gun capabilities” in his backyard was ordered held on bail Tuesday, a day after heavily armed officers surrounded his house.

The large-scale police response, complete with armored vehicles, came after authorities received a report from Robert Hoenig's neighbor, an off-duty NYPD deputy chief, that he had fired several rounds from what appeared to be the assault rifle Sunday night in his backyard.

He allegedly built the assault rifle and had fired the rounds into the ground to see if the gun was working, court documents state. He fired roughly 14 shots in his backyard, court papers say.

Prosecutor Benjamin Kussman said a search warrant of Hoenig’s home found the modified rifle in his closet that could shoot “a large number” of bullets rapidly “with one continuous pull of the trigger” as well as five large-capacity ammunition feeding devices that could use more than 10 bullets, court documents state.

Hoenig, 49, was ordered held on $200,000 bond or $100,000 cash bail during his arraignment Tuesday morning before Judge Maxine Broderick in First District Court in Hempstead.

His Legal Aid Society attorney Anna Avelone said no one was injured in the incident and he has lived in Elmont for 18 years and takes care of his girlfriend.

Wearing a gray T-shirt and black pants, Hoenig told the judge he is currently unemployed. He is due back in court on April 11.

On Monday, after waiting for the safety of daylight to descend on the Clay Street home, police telephoned Hoenig and he came out to surrender peacefully, said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.

Investigators have surveillance video showing the shooting of the AK-47, which is illegal to possess in New York state, Ryder said. 

“It’s extremely dangerous,” Ryder said of the alleged shooting. “You fire a gun into the ground, you hit a brick, it ricochets and someone could get hurt.”

Hoenig was charged with five counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon feeding device, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree reckless endangerment.

The shots were fired at 5:45 p.m. Sunday, the release said. The saga started about 6:30 p.m. when the NYPD deputy chief went to the Fifth Precinct to report what he saw after hearing the gunfire, police said.

“When he looked over the fence, he saw the neighbor fire additional rounds into the ground from what appeared to be an assault rifle,” Ryder said.

Officers were assigned to watch the house overnight as authorities filed for a search warrant and waited to make their move in the daylight.

“We did not want to make it confrontational, so we sat on the house until this morning,” Ryder said Monday. “We started to roll our SWAT guys and BearCat [armored vehicle] into position. We made the phone call inside. He came out and he peacefully surrendered this morning.

“When you have an automatic weapon … we need to take it slow,” the commissioner had said. “Nobody’s going to go knocking on the door in the middle of the night, when you have darkness, which is always a consideration. When you start to amass that type of troops together, it obviously could have woken him up, and it could have been a confrontation that we didn’t want.

“He walked out, thank God.”

Two other people, whom Ryder described as tenants, were in the two-family home at the time of the raid.

Ryder said the investigation was ongoing.

The commissioner said the suspect’s criminal record, combined with a report of an assault rifle, prompted police to be extra careful in handling the situation. 

Court records indicate that Hoenig has a criminal record dating back to 1987 but the dispositions were not available. The only case mentioned in court was a 2014 misdemeanor conviction but officials did not elaborate on it during the arraignment.

No one answered Hoenig’s door on Tuesday shortly before noon.

— With Ellen Yan 

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