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Dawn Nguyen outside federal court after an appearance in her gun charge case. / Jamie Germano, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- On June 20, 2010, Dawn Nguyen allegedly walked to the counter at a sporting goods store and bought a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and a Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle.

She paid $999.99 for the Bushmaster - a $200 discount - and an additional $319.99 for the shotgun, according to a receipt.

Two-and-a-half years later, on Christmas Eve, Nguyen's neighbor, William Spengler Jr., used the weapons in his deadly assault on volunteer firefighters who were responding to a blaze in Webster, N.Y. Spengler started the fire by setting his car ablaze, and then waited to ambush the firefighters.

Spengler fatally shot two West Webster Fire Department volunteer firefighters: Michael Chiapperini, a 43-year-old lieutenant with the Webster Police Department, and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka, a 911 emergency dispatcher. He wounded two others.

This week, Dawn Nguyen - a Greece woman who made her living largely as a poker dealer and poker player - will go on trial in state Supreme Court for the purchase of the firearms.

At its core, the allegation is a white-collar crime - a single felony count of first-degree falsification of a business record. She is accused of lying on a form she filled out for the gun purchase. Authorities allege that she claimed the guns were for her, when instead she bought them for Spengler.

If convicted, her sentence could range from no jail time to a maximum of four years.

"We're not trying the West Webster shooting," said Nguyen's attorney, Matthew Parrinello. "We know the prosecution is going to try to bring in as much of the West Webster shooting as they can. And we're going to try to keep out as much of the West Webster shooting as we can.

"It's really not pertinent to our case," Parrinello said.

But separating the allegations surrounding the 2010 firearms purchase and the 2012 mayhem could be difficult.

As court records and interviews bear out, the fire and fatal shootings will be part of the testimony. Investigators will likely testify about the recovery of the guns, found beside Spengler after he fatally shot himself with a handgun, and the subsequent interview with Nguyen, who was questioned the same day of the slayings and allegedly admitted making the purchase.

Nguyen and her mother, Dawn Welsher, lived next door to Spengler in Webster in 2010. Spengler was with Nguyen when she bought the guns, authorities allege.

Spengler, a convicted felon who beat his grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980, could not legally own firearms. He spent 17 years in prison for the killing.

The evidence against Nguyen is the federal firearms document she filled out at the Gander Mountain sporting goods store, her interviews with investigators, and testimony from former friends and others who allege that she admitted the guns were bought for Spengler.

One of those friends, Florida resident Nichole Springer, said Nguyen told her in 2010 that she bought the guns for Spengler. Earlier that year, Springer said in a telephone interview, Nguyen mentioned that her neighbor Spengler had been imprisoned for the killing of his grandmother.

Springer said she was shocked when Nguyen said she was buying guns for Spengler.

"He's a convicted felon, a murderer," Springer said.

Another witness is expected to be Monroe County sheriff's Deputy Vincent Petralis, who played poker with Nguyen. Nguyen allegedly contacted him on Christmas Eve 2012 after learning that Spengler had killed the two firefighters.

Petralis testified at a pretrial hearing that he received a text from Nguyen's phone, saying, "yes, I was the one who I believe purchased the weapons that he used to kill those people."

The witnesses against Nguyen are unreliable and, in some cases, have an animus toward her, Parrinello said.

"Their case relies heavily on civilian witnesses that have checkered pasts, that have a reason to come in and testify against her," he said. "No civilian witness comes in with clean hands."

Court papers allege that in a Dec. 24, 2012, interview with State Police Investigator Thomas Crowley, Nguyen said that Spengler chose the weapons she bought at Gander Mountain.

"Nguyen stated she purchased the firearms for personal protection and that they had since been stolen from her vehicle," court papers allege. "The firearms, however, were never reported as stolen."

A letter left by Spengler the day of the shooting was obtained last year by the Democrat and Chronicle and incriminates Welsher - Nguyen's mother - in the gun purchase. Spengler claimed in the letter, found in a plastic sleeve nailed to a fence near his home, that he enlisted Welsher to buy the guns and she sent Nguyen.

"I got the Bushmaster and Mossberg cruiser from her for cost plus $1000.00," Spengler wrote. "But heres where it gets tricky, she sent her daughter to get them because she doesn't like to leave a paper trail. ... So the dummy will take the heat for the weapons while the person who set it up and made the profit skates, if you let it go that way."

Welsher last year declined to comment on the letter. She was questioned by police but has not been charged with a crime. No other evidence has been aired that connects her to the purchase.

Nguyen also faces federal charges for the purchase. No date has been set for the federal trial.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Trial set for woman linked to firefighter ambush

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