Man’s SAFE Act charges dismissed

OBSERVER Staff Report

MAYVILLE — On Monday, Judge Stephen W. Cass of the Chautauqua County Court dismissed charges against Benjamin Wassell of Silver Creek. Wassell received multiple charges related to the sale of rifles and ammunition shortly after the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act was passed in mid-January 2013 in response to the killing of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn.

Wassell was charged after allegedly selling an AR-15, nearly 300 rounds of ammunition and six magazines and an AR-10 semi-automatic rifle with 31 rounds of ammunition and one magazine to undercover State Police investigators. An Iraq War veteran and father of four, Wassell was the first man convicted under the SAFE Act. In April, his SAFE Act-related conviction was overturned by the Fourth Department Appellate Division court in Rochester, where the judicial panel unanimously reversed the judgment and remitted the case back to Chautauqua County Court. It was determined that then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman did not have the authority to prosecute Wassell for the charges. Judges decided the record did not establish that the State Police superintendent asked the Attorney General’s office to prosecute the case and that no letter had been entered into the record from the State Police superintendent asking the Attorney General to prosecute.

In May 2014, Wassell was convicted in Chautauqua County Court of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of third-degree criminal sale of a weapon related to the same incident. These charges were dismissed by Cass on Monday morning.

In an interview with WNYNewsNow following the court proceedings, Wassell’s attorney Jim Ostrowski said, “What the public has to understand is that the local authorities did not want to prosecute; they brought in people from New York City.” Ostrowski told WNYNewsNow, “It was under Eric Schneiderman’s regime and he was trying to use Ben to score political points to run for higher office.”

Ostrowski continued, “The reason for the Second Amendment is to protect Americans from government tyranny and the fact of the matter is it has worked. We don’t have routinely masses of protesters shot in the streets, we don’t have coup d’etat every couple of months. When the people have the right to bear arms it actually creates political stability and peace.”