An attorney representing a Great Neck plastic surgeon charged with possessing a large stash of illegal weapons told a judge Tuesday that he would seek to have the case moved to the Bronx because prosecutors had tainted the jury pool in Westchester County by describing the doctor as a domestic terrorist.
Attorney Paul T. Gentile of Manhattan said Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino and other officials had acted unethically and prejudiced potential jurors when they described Dr. Matthew Bonanno, 47, at an Aug. 14 news conference as a threat to public safety who planned to kill his ex-wife.
Assistant District Attorney John O’Rourke told Judge George E. Fufidio Jr. that Gentile had provided most of the information about the case that had appeared in the media. Helen Jonsen, a spokeswoman for Scarpino’s office, declined further comment.
“What we’re saying is that we want the case out of Westchester because the jury pool has been poisoned and the district attorney has unlawfully prejudiced the case and violated the rules of professional conduct,” Gentile said.
Bonanno was arrested Aug. 12 in Tuckahoe after a friend told police the plastic surgeon threatened to kill his ex-wife Marianna Soropolous while the two men were drinking in a bar.
Investigators later found five assault rifles fully loaded with high-capacity magazines, heavy ballistic body armor, 1,600 rounds of ammunition and other weapons in Bonanno’s BMW, which was parked in the driveway of his former spouse’s Tuckahoe Village home. Police seized more assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, smoke grenades and other weapons at Bonanno’s Great Neck home. Authorities also found three unlicensed handguns in Bonanno’s Westchester home in Mount Pleasant.
Gentile said Nassau County prosecutors told him that a grand jury had handed down an indictment that charges Bonanno with illegal weapons possession, but that indictment remains sealed. Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, said the case remained under investigation.
Gentile told the judge he would also ask the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department to lower bail for Bonanno. He is being held at the Westchester County jail in lieu of $500,000 bond or $100,000 cash.
Fufidio ordered Bonanno to return to his court Dec. 10 if the appellate division does not rule on the request for a venue change by then. Bonanno, wearing a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and blue jeans, did not speak during the hearing.
An indictment unsealed last month charged Bonanno with 53 counts of illegal weapons possession. Bonanno pleaded not guilty to the charges during a Sept. 10 court appearance.
Gentile said Bonanno was a gun collector who had purchased the weapons in Florida and did not know that he had to register the guns in New York State.
Soropolous, 47, told Fufidio last month that she did not feel threatened by her ex-husband and did not ask for a temporary order of protection. Fufidio lifted the order of protection but declined to lower Bonanno’s bail during the September hearing.
Gentile said police had illegally broken into Bonanno’s vehicle and searched it without first obtaining a search warrant. Police did not read Bonanno his Miranda rights before they asked him if a weapon found in the car belonged to him, the lawyer added.
“”They came up to him and said ‘There is a gun in the car, is it your gun?’ Right at that point, before you ask that question, you have to give him his rights because the answer to that question could and did legally incriminate him,” Gentile said.
Bonanno has not been charged in connection with the alleged threat to his estranged wife.