Suffolk County authorities have charged the owner of a Ronkonkoma sporting goods store with selling illegal assault firearms and high-capacity gun magazines, including a rifle used in a murder-suicide in which a man killed his 2-year-old son and himself, officials said Thursday.
Chester Pergan, 53, of St. James, was arraigned Thursday and pleaded not guilty to 69 counts of illegal possession and sale of firearms, said Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini. If convicted, Pergan faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
Authorities said they seized 116 assault rifles, 820 high-capacity magazines and 80 illegal knives from Chester’s Hunting and Fishing store. Among the assault weapons was a loaded AK-47 found near the front counter at the store, Sini said.
“What’s important to note is that on its surface, this store looked legitimate — it was right there in plain sight on the streets of Suffolk County — but what was really happening is that he was trafficking in illegal firearms,” Sini said.
Through the investigation, authorities also recovered 13 illegal assault weapons, including a rifle Pergan sold in 2017 to John Ligurgo III, who used the weapon to kill his 2-year-old son and himself in 2018, police said.
“There is literally blood on that weapon,” Sini said at a Thursday news conference, pointing to the rifle in a box. “This was a decision he made to line his pocket, a decision with tragic consequences.”
Concerns have heightened across the country regarding the sale of high-powered assault weapons, which have often been linked to shooters killing scores of people in minutes.
One of the assault rifles seized from Pergan's store had a special magazine that could fire 50 shots within seconds, authorities said. Another had the power to shoot through a tank.
Pergan also had numerous gun parts called "lower receivers" with no serial numbers, which are legal in New York State but can be used in the assembly of so-called ghost guns that can be virtually impossible to trace, officials said.
Pergan maintained a Federal Firearms License, which permitted him to sell rifles and shotguns. However, he surrendered his New York State Dealer in Firearms License in 2015 because of record-keeping problems, making it illegal for him to purchase, possess or sell assault weapons.
“He had no right to sell these weapons in New York State,” Sini said.
Pergan's attorney, Anthony LaPinta, said his client had owned the store for 19 years. He emphasized that Pergan had a federal license to sell firearms.
"This isn't some back-alley gun sales," LaPinta said. "This is a man with a family business in Ronkonkoma."
Pergan illegally purchased weapons from out-of-state retailers or distributors, and illegally sold them to individuals who were not eligible to possess assault weapons in New York State, authorities said.
The Suffolk district attorney's office conducted the investigation with the New York State Police and the Suffolk County Police Department.
“Illegal weapons put everyone’s lives at risk, and this collaboration ensures that not only will Pergan be held accountable for profiting from illegal weapon sales but, more importantly, more than 100 assault weapons won’t end up in the wrong hands," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
Chester’s Hunting & Fishing was closed immediately after the search warrant was served in November 2018.
Suffolk County Court Judge Philip Goglas set bail at $400,000 cash or $800,000 bond. Pergan is due back in court on Feb. 6.