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‘Illegal firearms are a plague:’ Toronto businessman gets 5 years for illegal gun sale

The Ontario Superior Court building is seen in Toronto.
The Ontario Superior Court building is seen in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

A successful businessman with an otherwise unblemished record has been jailed for five years for illegally selling and possessing guns in a case that left the judge scratching his head.

In a strongly worded sentencing decision, Superior Court Justice Robert Goldstein said a conditional sentence for Antonio Sampogna would send the wrong message about fairness in the justice system.

All too often, the judge said, it is young men of colour who face gun-related charges. Those accused, he said, are frequently from marginalized backgrounds and have faced significant obstacles in their lives. Sampogna bears little resemblance to them, Goldstein said.

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“Imposing a conditional sentence in this case will send a message that there are harsher periods of incarceration for young men of colour than for people in Mr. Sampogna’s position,”

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Goldstein wrote. “That is simply unacceptable.”

At the request of both prosecution and defence, Goldstein convicted Sampogna of a total of six offences involving possession and trafficking of firearms. The main offence involved his selling a 9-mm Luger semi-automatic rifle, along with ammunition, to a suspected drug trafficker in 2017.

Evidence was that Sampogna, 57, of Toronto, had no criminal record, was a keen hunter who legally owned three weapons, and ran his own heating and ventilation business.

The prosecution sought a minimum six-year sentence. The defence argued for a conditional sentence of up to six months, a position the judge squarely rejected.

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“There is no delicate way to put this so I will put it directly: If this court imposes a conditional sentence on Mr. Sampogna, it will send a message – the wrong message,” Goldstein wrote in his decision released late last week.

“People must be reminded that illegal firearms are a plague,”

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Goldstein wrote. “They kill people. They facilitate crime.”

Goldstein considered the gun sale to be an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes even though there was no evidence Sampogna had used his illegal firearms to commit any crime, or that he even had any criminal plans.

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“The firearm was not a handgun, but it was a semi-automatic, carbine-like weapon, highly suitable for use in robberies, drug trafficking, and other criminal activity,” Goldstein said. “The possession of other illegal firearms, including handguns and a sawed-off rifle, is also highly aggravating.”

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Still, the judge expressed puzzlement at what prompted Sampogna who by all accounts had led an exemplary life and didn’t need the money from selling an illegal weapon – to run afoul of the law.

“Mr. Sampogna is something of a mystery, frankly,” Goldstein wrote. “At the end of the day, I do not need to resolve the question of Mr. Sampogna’s reasons for committing this crime, but it is puzzling.”

Overall, the justice said, Sampogna deserved a five-year prison term to adequately address the principle of general deterrence. He will also be banned from having firearms for 10 years.