BRENDAN LYONS Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Thursday, September 18, 2003

Correction: ***** CORRECTION PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 20, 2003 ***** An article in Thursday's Capital Region section listed the wrong first name for James Frampton, one of the co-owners of the former B & J Guns shop in Colonie.

A restaurant owner from Schodack has been charged with making illegal gun silencers and altering assault rifles and other weapons in an elaborate underground shop that federal agents said he operated in the basement of his home. Authorities raided the Angelo Avenue home of 53-year-old Michael D. Scarnato in January. The raid came as authorities followed up leads on a related investigation into whether firearms were sold illegally at a former Central Avenue gun shop, according to federal court records.

On Wednesday afternoon, Scarnato was arraigned on several felony weapons counts in U.S. District Court in Albany. He was arrested Tuesday by federal agents and spent the night in Albany County jail.

Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece released Scarnato on his own recognizance and set a preliminary hearing for Oct. 2.

The weapons investigation began last year when Brian Olesen II and Peter B. Frampton, who were co-owners of the former B & J Guns in Colonie, began accusing one another of criminal activity during a bitter breakup of their business partnership. The business was located at 1814 Central Ave. but has since closed and the dispute resolved, their attorneys said.

But federal authorities said their investigation of gun sales at the once-popular store is just heating up.

In December, ATF agents interviewed Frampton and he allegedly told them that a month earlier at his store he saw an illegal, .22-caliber silencer sitting on a desk. Frampton claimed Scarnato made the silencer and sold it to Olesen for $350.

Gun silencers are illegal to possess, manufacture or transport, authorities said.

In an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, ATF Agent Angelo Vara said Frampton described Scarnato, who owns a restaurant on Scott Avenue in Schodack, as someone the gun-store owners had dealt with regularly.

``Frampton identified Scarnato as an individual who often performed gunsmith work for B & J's,'' Vara said. ``Frampton stated that Scarnato told him that he had previously sold a firearm silencer to Olesen for $350 ... (and) also offered Frampton a silencer for $300.''

Gun silencers like those allegedly made by Scarnato are illegal to possess or sell and federal agents are trying to track down how many he may have made and where they ended up, according to federal officials involved in the investigation.

But the investigation is not limited to silencers.

Court records show an altered Bushmaster assault rifle also was seen on display at B & J Guns last year when federal agents visited the business. Frampton allegedly told agents that the gun's barrel had been altered by Scarnato.

``You can't take an otherwise legal assault rifle and alter it so that it has certain features on it that would make it illegal,'' said John Morgan, resident-agent-in-charge of the Albany ATF office. ``The investigation remains ongoing and the U.S. attorney's office will be considering additional charges for any person that's culpable.''

Olesen and Scarnato did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Frampton could not be reached for comment.

Before B & J Guns closed its doors in December, it had been a hotbed of police activity for nearly two years. Burglars targeting handguns struck the store twice and town police were called to the store once to break up an argument between Olesen and Frampton, both residents of Colonie.

Olesen filed a lawsuit against Frampton last year accusing him of looting the store for personal use and selling firearms illegally.

The store was one of the region's most popular gun shops for hundreds of hunters, law enforcement officers and others.