SAFE Act Case Going To Trial

MAYVILLE – Jury selection will begin Tuesday in the case of Benjamin Wassell, the first person in Chautauqua County charged under the controversial SAFE Act.

Wassell is charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor under the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act after he allegedly sold modified guns, which were illegal under the SAFE Act, to an undercover officer, even after being told the officer was a felon.

He was arraigned in Hanover Town Court in April, when the case was transferred to Chautauqua County Court. At that time people from across the state attended the arraignment to show their support of Wassell and their opposition to the SAFE Act.

Wassell, a father and veteran, is represented by Michael Deal of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria LLP.

Deal explained the grand jury trial will be presided over by Hon. Judge Michael L. D’Amico of Erie County Court. He said judges Hon. John Ward and Hon. Stephen Cass recused themselves from the trial because they are both members of the National Rifle Association.

“They did not want there to be any appearance of impropriety,” Deal explained in a phone interview.

Deal said there was a “Huntley hearing” to determine if statements should be suppressed on Thursday.

He added Wassell is looking forward to his day in court.

“Ben is looking forward to confronting the charges against his and having his day in court so he can start getting this behind him,” Deal said on behalf of his client.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office is handling the prosecution, with Assistant Attorney General Cydney Kelly assigned to the case.

Casey Aguglia from the New York State Attorney General’s press office said it has a policy of not commenting on ongoing cases, but did confirm that the case will remain in Chautauqua County Court.

Chief Clerk of the Chautauqua County Court Kathleen Krauza said the jury selection will take place on March 4 at 10 a.m. She explained, because it is a grand jury trial, it is open to the public as space allows. She added a plea deal can be submitted any time before the first juror is selected.

Wassell was charged in March 2013 with two counts of third-degree sale of a firearm, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of manufacture, transport, disposition and defacement of weapons and dangerous instruments and appliances for actions which took place in January and February 2013. Wassell was the first person charged under the controversial NY SAFE Act, which has been criticized, challenged in court, rallied against and had municipalities approve resolutions denouncing it since its passage on Jan. 25, 2013.