Long Island sporting goods store owner accused of illegally selling guns

RONKONKOMA, Long Island (WABC) -- The owner of a Long Island sporting goods store has been indicted after officials say he illegally possessed and sold weapons, including assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Authorities say 53-year-old Chester Pergan, of St. James, was also in possession of numerous unserialized lower receivers, which can be used to manufacture ghost guns.

"The amount of ammunition and assault weapons seized and recovered in connection with this case is alarming," District Attorney Tim Sini said. "I want to make it very clear. One of our top priorities in Suffolk County is to combat violent crime, and an integral part of that strategy is to take illegal guns off our streets, which is exactly what we did here."

Pergan, who owns Chester's Hunting & Fishing in Ronkonkoma, is facing a slew of weapons charges.

Officials say a search warrant was executed at the store on November 14, 2018, at which time Pergan was allegedly found in possession of 116 illegal assault weapons, more than 80 illegal knives, and 820 high-capacity magazines, including a loaded AK-47 found near the front counter at the store. Pergan was also allegedly found in possession of numerous lower receivers without serial numbers.

Pergan had 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, making it illegal for him to purchase, possess or sell assault weapons.

He surrendered that state license in 2015 after he was in danger of losing it for compliance issues. Sini said Pergan kept an improper accounting of his guns, including guns that were later discovered to have been stolen.

"The heart of the question, the bulls eye of the issue, is whether the New York State license is required to piggyback the federal license in the sale of these weapons," attorney Anthony LaPinta said. "This isn't some back-alley gun salesman. This is a man who was operating a family business for over 18 years."

Officials say the investigation revealed evidence that Pergan allegedly illegally purchased weapons from out of state retailers or distributors and illegally sold them to individuals that are not eligible to possess assault weapons in New York State. Over the course of the investigation, detectives attempted to locate and inspect illegal weapons allegedly sold by Pergan between 2015 and 2018, which resulted in the recovery of an additional 13 illegal assault weapons.

One of the assault weapons recovered during the course of the investigation was allegedly sold by Pergan in 2017 to John Ligurgo III, of Coram. In June 2018, Ligurgo used the illegal assault weapon to kill his 2-year-old son Jovani and himself in Rockbridge County, Virginia.

"There's blood on that weapon," Sini said.

Ligurgo's ex-girlfriend Maria Busone, Jovani's mother, said he had told her he had bought a gun from Chester's but said it was a legal hunting rifle.

"I had no clue it was illegal," she said. "I don't understand why, how a guy was able to own a shop and sell illegal firearms. He wasn't like he was doing it out of his basement. He was literally selling this out of a store on the road."

Pergan pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

"What's important to note is that on its surface, this store looked legitimate," Sini said. "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."

Chester's Hunting & Fishing was closed immediately following the search warrant in November 2018.

If convicted of the top count, Pergan faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

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