A longtime Kingston community activist will spend two years in state prison for illegal firearms sales according to the terms of a plea agreement approved in Ulster County Court. On Friday, Oct. 28, Ismail Shabazz, 61, pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted criminal sale of a firearm. Shabazz’s plea comes one week before he was due to stand trial on charges that he sold guns to an FBI informant on five separate occasions between May 2014 and May 2015.
“A gentleman I know, who was like a son to me, came to me, showed me a license [to buy and sell firearms] and asked me for firearms,” Shabazz told the court. “And I sold him firearms.”
Shabazz, formerly known as Gary Faulkner, is a self-proclaimed “former hustler” who in the past decade has emerged as a community activist. He has served on the board of the local NAACP, sponsored anti-violence initiatives and pushed for literacy and other education programs at the Everette Hodge Community Center. He has also been a vocal critic of the Kingston Police Department, at times calling out local cops by name on his Facebook page and at community forums accusing them of corruption, abuse and racism.
Shabazz’s own legal troubles began in 2014 when he drew the attention of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. According to Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright, Shabazz met the informant to whom he would later sell guns at a Harlem rally in support of 1970s radical and convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur. At the time, Shabazz was a vocal supporter of the New Black Panther Party, a radical organization that takes its name and revolutionary rhetoric from the 60s era black liberation organization. (Former members of the 60s Panthers have disavowed connection to the new group citing racist and anti-Semitic statements by its leaders). Later, Shabazz would start his own offshoot, Black Panthers for Self Defense. The informant in the case, Shabazz has said, served as the group’s “minister of defense.”
According to police, on five occasions in 2014 and 2015 Shabazz sold illegal guns to the informant at his Prospect Street home. The guns included a semi-automatic shotgun, an illegally sawed-off shotgun, an assault rifle and three pistols. In each of the transactions, Shabazz charged between $1,000 and $1,500 for the weapons. The investigation was conducted by the FBI working in conjunction with Kingston Police and the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office.
Carnright said that he decided to end the investigation and file state weapons charges in June 2015 after Shabazz was heard on tape with the informant discussing recruiting local gang members to his political organization and training them to disarm police and use firearms. Federal authorities declined to file charges in the case. Shabazz has denied ever discussing or advocating violence against police.
“I never said to attack police, that’s crazy,” said Shabazz speaking shortly before his court appearance. “I’ve worked with police on all kinds of programs over the years.”
Shabazz’s attorney, high-profile civil rights litigator Michael Sussman, has said that his client was a victim of entrapment — that the FBI informant had persuaded the normally law-abiding grandfather to engage in criminal activity that he otherwise would not have. Sussman also said that Shabazz believed the weapons he sold were destined for liberation movements in Africa, not criminals on local streets. Shabazz offered his own justification for the sales in remarks to Kingston Times shortly before his court hearing.
“I was trying to get guns up off the street,” said Shabazz. “Because I was tired of these kids killing each other.”
Shabazz said that he also needed money to pay for medicine to treat various ailments that he suffered from and struggled to treat on a modest income.
“I had to pay for my medicine myself,” said Shabazz. “Otherwise I would never had sold no fucking guns.”
But in court, represented by Sussman Associate Heather Abissi, Shabazz waived the entrapment defense, and his right to appeal under the terms of the plea deal. When asked by Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Robert Knapp whether he had knowingly sold illegal guns to the informant, Shabazz answered affirmatively. Under the terms of the plea deal approved by presiding Judge Richard McNally, Shabazz pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted criminal sale of a firearm, a class D violent felony. The charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. If he’d been convicted at trial on all five counts contained in the indictment, and sentenced to consecutive terms, Shabazz could have been sentenced to 35 years in prison. Instead, under the terms of the plea deal, McNally agreed to sentence him to two years in prison with three years of post-release supervision. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 10. Shabazz remains free on bail pending the sentencing hearing.
Editor’s note: A previously posted version of this story had Shabazz saying he was shown a driver’s license by the man he sold guns to; in fact, Shabazz said he was shown a license to buy and sell firearms.