KINGSTON – Ismail Shabazz is going to jail, barring something unforeseen. The embattled civil rights activist from Midtown Kingston, known for his involvement in the Black Panther movement, pled guilty in Ulster County Court on Friday to one count of felony attempted criminal sale of a weapon.
Judge Richard McNalley Jr. accepted his plea bargain, brokered by prosecutor Robert Knapp, with a sentence of two years, followed by three years of parole. Shabazz can be released with good behavior after 18 months.
Shabazz is out on bail until a sentencing hearing on January 10, 2017. A presentence screening will also determine his ultimate fate in years served.
Shabazz told Mid-Hudson News that his entrapment defense unraveled after two key character witnesses, both ministers who grew up with him in Kingston, backed out of testifying on his behalf.
The circumstances centered on Kingston’s 4th Ward, a predominantly minority neighborhood near the public library. Cops arrested Shabazz on June 26, 2015, with a 16-count indictment, based on evidence provided by an undercover federal informant.
Represented by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman, Shabazz and a group of roughly three dozen supporters, held criminal defense fundraisers and put together an entrapment argument, alleging a scheme concocted to export firearms for African liberation.
In reality this informant, using the alias Bilal Mohammad, was secretly videotaping the weapons transactions, in conjunction with law enforcement. The evidence was sequestered and never made public.
The original prosecutor, Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright, stated in a 2015 news release that Shabazz sold the weapons in advocacy of violence against police – an intent never substantiated, according to Sussman.
Later Judge McNally replaced Carnright with Dutchess County DA William Grady, as Carnright had represented Shabazz in a past criminal case. Previously, Ulster County Court Judge Donald Williams recused himself, and McNally presided after that.
Although convicted, Shabazz vowed to continue fighting; claiming many good cops remain on his side, but a few bad apples put him down. While in jail, Shabazz promises to preach the good word, with a Muslim slant, to fellow prisoners. “I took responsibility for doing what I did, but I am going to continue the work I do wherever I’m at,” he said in a Facebook posting Friday.