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Long IslandNassau

Seaford gun shop owner gets $1.3M judgment from Nassau in wrongful arrest case

Martin Tretola, 57, and his wife Cena Tretola

Martin Tretola, 57, and his wife Cena Tretola in their store in Seaford, T & T Gunnery, 3778 Merrick Road on Aug. 16 2012. Credit: Johnny Milano

A Seaford gun shop owner who said Nassau County police wrongfully arrested him in 2007 is expected to receive more than $1 million from the county -- less than what a federal jury had awarded him two years ago.

The Nassau County Legislature's Rules Committee Monday will consider borrowing $1.3 million to pay Martin Tretola and his business, T & T Gunnery, to satisfy the judgment against the county and a police officer.

Tretola filed suit in 2008, alleging that his arrest on a reckless endangerment charge was based on false information that he was operating a makeshift gun range near a natural gas line. The suit claimed that police didn't bother to confirm the gas line had been disconnected for decades, and that the so-called "range" was really a bullet trap, a device to safely absorb bullets for testing.

The criminal charge was later dismissed, according to the suit. But Tretola said the temporary loss of his gun dealer's license because of his arrest -- and the stigma of the case -- led to sales losses equivalent to the value of at least 900 guns.

A U.S. District Court jury in 2012 awarded Tretola $5 million in damages, but a judge reduced it to $1.3 million following an appeal by Nassau. The county sought to throw out the entire judgment. "It was important to appeal because while the jury believed compensation for the plaintiff was proper, the amount was too high and not consistent with the facts presented at trial," county attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement. "As a result of this decision, Nassau County taxpayers saved $3.8 million."

One of Tretola's attorneys, Steven Harfenist of Lake Success, said the past seven years have been "a really long and arduous road to get him justice.

"He wants to move on and rebuild his business," Harfenist said. "Like everybody in these times, he's been struggling. The incidents surrounding this case really hurt his business."

Also Monday, the Rules Committee is expected to extend by a year a contract with Parents for Megan's Law, a Stony Brook-based nonprofit. The group will operate a helpline for sex abuse victims, manage an online registry of offenders, send out email alerts when offenders move into a neighborhood, make referrals for counseling and distribute literature to police precincts.

Nassau would pay the group $90,000 for work already performed from March to August, and $180,000 to manage the program from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2015.Parents for Megan's Law also bid on a larger Nassau contract to manage its new Sex Offender Verification Program, including tracking offenders' posts on social media and creating a smartphone app where the public can report new abuse allegations. That contract has yet to be announced.

With Robert Brodsky

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