LOCKPORT — A Niagara Falls man was spared jail-time Wednesday on three felony weapons charges for possessing 17-round magazines in a court case that outraged gun-rights advocates.
Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy sentenced Simeon Mokhiber, an Iraq War veteran, to a conditional discharge on three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a class-D felony. Each charge carried a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Mokhiber, 42, of Willow Avenue, was stopped by Niagara Falls police on April 18, 2016 for speeding. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated as well as the weapons charges after police found three 17-round magazines for a Glock handgun in his vehicle.
Mokhiber did not have a weapon in the vehicle, and was a licensed pistol-permit holder, according to Assistant District Attorney Claudette Caldwell.
On April 21 of this year, a jury acquitted Mokhiber of DWI but convicted him on the three weapons charges as well as speeding.
Conservative websites and local pro-gun groups, such as SCOPE Niagara County and the Wilson Conservation Club, rallied to his defense. They have said the magazines are standard-issue for Glock handguns, pointed to his service with the U.S. Army in Iraq and decried the length of his potential sentence.
His supporters donated more than $3,380 to an online legal defense fund for Mokhiber. An online petition calling for leniency in his sentencing receive more than 1,500 signatures as of press time.
Murphy said he received more correspondence on Mokhiber's case than on any other in his 10 years as a judge. So many of Mokhiber's supporters were present, the sentencing had to be relocated to a larger courtroom.
However, Murphy said trial judges must administer the law as it is written.
"I want to stress the sentence I'm about to impose is not a commentary on the SAFE Act," Murphy said.
Rather, Murphy said he was basing his sentence on Mokhiber's character. Mokhiber served nine years in the U.S. Army, participated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq and later returned to Iraq as a private security contractor. Mokhiber is the father of a child with disabilities, holds a job at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino and was never previously convicted of a penal law violation.
Despite the conditional discharge, Mokhiber's attorney Jim Ostrowski said he plans to appeal Mokhiber's conviction.