A man who owns gun stores in Garden City Park and Seaford was awarded $5 million in a federal jury verdict last Wednesday that found his business suffered monetary damages from a wrongful arrest by the Nassau County Police for reckless endangerment in 2008.
Belmore resident Martin Tretola was awarded $3 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages last week by a federal jury in Central Islip, according to court records. He was arrested on June 1, 2008 for allegedly maintaining an illegal firing range near a natural gas line at T&T Gunnery on 3778 Merrick Road in Seaford.
The lawsuit filed against Nassau County in 2008 said Tretola, who also owns T&T Tactical at 2180 Jericho Turnpike in Garden City Park, sustained losses of not less than $1 million as the result of losing his license to sell handguns for a year after the arrest until it was reinstated.
“I’m happy about the judgment,” Tretola said.
Tretola charged in court documents that his arrest was the result of a disagreement between him and Officer Erik Faltings in the Pistol Licensing Bureau of Nassau County. Faltings allegedly asked Tretola to release some weapons to a friend of Faltings in March 2006, and Tretola refused, questioning the legality of Faltings’ request.
On May 9, 2007, the Nassau County Fire Marshal, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, the Town of Hempstead Buildings Department and the Nassau County Bomb Squad simultaneously raided Tretola’s T&T Gunnery store in Seaford in a move allegedly orchestrated by Faltings. Tretola received multiple summonses, including one for an overdue fire inspection, another for record-keeping of sales of second-hand guns, and one for maintaining an illegal firing range, according to attorney Steven Harfenist, who represented Tretola in the case.
Harenist said the raid and the subsequent arrest were the result of a grudge Faltings held against Tretola.
“I feel he had an animus towards Marty. He didn’t like being told he didn’t know how to do his job,” Harfenist said of Faltings. “He was trying to do somebody a favor and Marty didn’t go along with it. He came down with the dogs of war.”
Harfenist said Tretola’s arrest in 2008 was unjustified because he maintained a trap box - a device for safely discharging bullets from guns for test purposes - in his Seaford store, not a firing range. The summons Tretola received for that same offense in the 2007 raid was subsequently dismissed.
“There was no reason to arrest him. He didn’t have any firing range,” Harfenist said.
Faltings later brought charges for filing a false instrument for licensing requirements, according to Harfenist, who said that charge was also dismissed.
Last year, Harfenist said, Tretola was one of several gun store owners arrested last year for illegally selling assault weapons.
“He was arrested as part of a large operation. It was witch hunt. It was all about getting publicity,” Harfenist said.
The case against Harfenist and the others hinged on whether assault weapons being sold had folding stocks. Assault weapons with folding stocks are illegal, according to Harfenist, who said Tretola had permanently altered the weapons he was selling with pins that prevented the weapon’s stock from folding. Harfenist said a grand jury dismissed the charge of illegally selling the weapons against his client.
“This is an ongoing thing. I think the DA has a thing for me,” Tretola said.
Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli dismissed the argument that a county police officer has unjustly targeted Tretola.
Ciampoli said his office has made a motion for the verdict in Tretola’s case against the county to be set aside. Failing that, Ciampoli said, he will consider filing an appeal in the case.
“It’s fair to say that in terms of the economic damages, I think the jury was out of touch with reality,” Ciampoli said.
Ciampoli said after Tretola lost his license to sell handguns, he transferred his pistol inventory from his Seaford store to the Garden City Park store, a business registered in his wife’s name, Ciampoli said.
“More importantly, he could still sell ammunition and rifles at the [Seaford] store,” Ciampoli said.
Harfenist said he will be filing a second suit against the county for Tretola’s arrest last year on the assault weapons charge.