A Great Neck plastic surgeon pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he had a large cache of illegal weapons, and a Westchester County judge lifted an order of protection keeping him from having contact with his estranged wife.
Matthew Bonanno, 47, was arraigned Tuesday in White Plains on a newly unsealed indictment, charging him with 53 counts of illegal weapons possession. He is also possibly facing similar charges in Nassau County, prosecutors said in court Tuesday.
Bonanno's estranged wife Marianna Soropolous, 47, of Tuckahoe, told Judge George E. Fufidio Jr. under oath that she had not asked for the temporary order of protection against Bonanno and that she didn't feel at risk.
"The police told me I was getting one," Soropolous said of the protection order.
An allegation that Bonanno said he wanted to kill Soropolous was the impetus for the police investigation that led to his arrest. Tuckahoe Village police took him into arrested Bonanno on Aug. 12 after a friend told cops he heard Bonanno, while drinking in a bar, make a threat about killing his ex-wife, authorities have said.
Soropolous declined to comment after the proceeding.
Bonanno's attorney, Paul T. Gentile, of Manhattan, said Soropolous wants Bonanno released from jail so he can help her care for their 7-year-old daughter because Soropolous was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and her father died last week. She tried to visit him at the Westchester County Jail recently, but was turned away because of the protection order, Gentile said.
"She wants the court to know she needs him out," said Gentile, who also stressed that his client is merely a gun collector who had his weapons legally registered in Florida. Gentile said Bonanno was unaware he was required to register his guns in New York State.
Gentile called the allegation that Bonanno threatened to kill his wife a “false claim” by a man who was intoxicated at the time.
“He’s not a threat to anyone,” said Gentile, who also challenged the legality of the police search of Bonnano's vehicle that ended with the seizure of weapons.
But while lifting the protection order, Fufidio denied Gentile's Tuesday request to lower Bonnano's bail — set at an earlier proceeding at $500,000 bond or $100,000 cash --citing what the judge described as assault rifles and extended magazines Bonanno is accused of having. The judge added that if Bonanno posts bail he’ll be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Westchester Assistant District Attorney John O'Rourke argued that Bonanno's bail should not be lowered because he's a flight risk, saying that he could face some 30 years in prison if convicted on charges in both Westchester and Nassau.
"They are basically weapons of mass destruction … to kill people and lots of them," O'Rourke said of the weapons police found in Bonnano's vehicle, parked in the driveway of his wife's Tuckahoe home. The prosecutor said they're not akin to deer hunting rifles.
The search of Bonanno's vehicle resulted in cops seizing five assault rifles, three handguns, 29 high-capacity loaded magazines, more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition, a stun gun, body armor, handcuffs, masks, knives, scopes and binoculars.
At Bonanno's East Shore Road apartment in Great Neck, police said they found more assault rifles, handguns, a shotgun, high-capacity magazines, body armor, ammunition and smoke grenades. Authorities have also said they found three unlicensed handguns that Bonanno kept at his parents’ home in Mount Pleasant. At the time of his arrest, Bonanno also had an illegal, loaded semiautomatic handgun in his friend's vehicle, according to police.
The indictment against Bonanno charges him with 11 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, related to the assault weapons and other illegal firearms, and 38 counts of third-degree criminal possession, related to illegal high-capacity magazines and ammunitions found at the same time. He was also indicted on four counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, misdemeanors, for possession of metal knuckles.
He has not been charged in connection with the alleged threat to his estranged wife.
Gentile said police acted improperly by failing to get permission from Bonanno to search his vehicle until they had already done so.
Holding up a tiny neon green USB flash drive in court — evidence turned over by prosecutors to the defense attorney — Gentile said it contained “extraordinary” body camera footage of Tuckahoe police officers seeking permission from Soropolous to search Bonnano’s vehicle. Gentile said the footage shows she refused. And then a Tuckahoe officer, despite his supervisor telling him in a call that he couldn't do the search, “willfully breaks into the car” anyway, Gentile said the video shows.
The defense lawyer said after the illegal search, police attempted to coverup their conduct by asking Bonanno to sign a document consenting to the search, which he did.
The defense attorney said his client was also not read his Miranda warning by police.
Prosecutors dismissed Gentile’s claims of police misconduct. O’Rourke said Tuckahoe police “took appropriate steps” and “nothing improper” was done.
Nassau District Attorney spokesman Brendan Brosh said his office’s investigation in the case is ongoing.
Bonanno is due back in court for a pre-trial conference on Oct. 1.