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Saturday, 9 August 2008

Victor Needleman, Pembroke Park gun shop was sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison

Victor Needleman, 56, whose popular Pembroke Park gun shop counted local police officers as clients, was sentenced Thursday to nearly six years in federal prison for selling dozens of weapons destined for drug dealers and other criminals. He also must forfeit $44,600 in cash and all rights to the American Range & Gun shop.
The 70-month sentence follows Needleman's guilty plea to selling high-powered rifles and automatic weapons to felons. To avoid detection, Needleman used phony "straw" buyers and falsified records to make it appear the guns were headed to lawful owners.
In truth, they were headed to Guatemala and members of powerful drug cartels involved in street battles, according to prosecutors.
"This crime was primarily based on the defendant's greed in operating what was otherwise a very profitable business," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Walleisa said in court, arguing for the maximum seven-year prison term. "He caused dozens of weapons to be put on the streets to criminals with no concerns for how they would be used."Earlier this year, federal agents arrested a convicted felon in Miami on charges of trying to smuggle weapons to Guatemala. All of the guns came from Needleman's shop and were bought by a straw buyer with a clean record, who in turn passed them to the unidentified felon, records state.Needleman directed the purchase and taught the man and others how to subvert federal background checks and laws prohibiting felons from owning guns, according to court records. One of Needleman's students was an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent posing as a straw buyer, who bought dozens of weapons in transactions recorded on tape.Besides the Central America-bound weapons, Needleman and American Range & Gun sold more than 50 guns used in the United States and elsewhere for violent crimes such as bank robbery and assault, Walleisa said.U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas followed defense attorney Fred Haddad's recommendation for the minimum sentence under federal guidelines, making Needleman eligible for parole in about five years. Haddad emphasized his client had no criminal record and cooperated with authorities almost immediately after his April arrest.Needleman, of North Miami Beach, has a history of depression and has battled substance abuse over the years, Haddad said, adding his client has shown "great remorse."
Walleisa questioned how genuine the remorse was. Under terms of his plea agreement, Needleman must sell American Range & Gun, but prosecutors said he organized a scheme from his jail cell that would allow him to secretly keep control. He has been detained without bail since his arrest.
American Range & Gun is under new ownership and now is called Pembroke Park Range & Gun. Needleman is not affiliated with the new entity, a woman who answered the phone at the shop said Thursday. She would not give her name but derided what she called the prosecutor's "unsubstantiated allegations about Victor" trying to retain control.
American Range & Gun was one of the busiest ranges in South Broward, frequented by police officers from surrounding communities and various federal agencies.



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