A plastic surgeon who lives in Great Neck was arrested on Monday, Aug. 12 in Westchester County after a bystander tipped off police that the man was plotting to kill his estranged wife and her family.
Matthew Bonanno, who lives in the Avalon Great Neck apartment complex on East Shore Road, was arrested by officers of the Tuckahoe Police Department in Tuckahoe, Westchester County, who found he had a Glock Model 19 pistol with him when he was apprehended.
Following Bonanno’s arrest, police said they conducted a search of his car, which was parked outside his ex-wife’s house, and found a massive array of weaponry and instruments designed to aid the alleged would-be killer. Among the cache were five assault rifles, four smoke grenades, face masks, body armor, high-capacity ammunition clips, 1,600 rounds of ammunition, two pairs of brass knuckles, handcuffs, a stun gun, knives, pepper spray and three more pistols.
Representatives from the Westchester District Attorney’s office said the Nassau County Police Department searched Bonanno’s Great Neck apartment and found additional assault rifles. The Nassau County Police Department declined to comment on the matter, citing official policy, and representatives from Avalon did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
Westchester County First Deputy District Attorney Paul Noto said the DA’s current understanding of the situation is that Bonanno drove upstate to attend a family barbeque at the house of his ex-wife, who he’s been separated from for around six years. Their daughter and other family members were also present.
“He had lost his keys at the end of the day, and was looking for his keys and [his ex-wife] was assisting him,” Noto said. “I think he was unhappy that she wasn’t really helping him enough. It wasn’t that clear, but in any event she had asked a friend to come over to help him.”
Tuckahoe Police Department lieutenant Andrew Zirolnik said the department was tipped off about Bonanno from that friend, who took him away from the home to Growler’s Beer
Bistro, a nearby bar and restaurant. The pair had been drinking in the establishment when Bonanno reportedly told his acquaintance about his plan and that acquaintance contacted the police.
“He had overheard the defendant making some kind of threats about harming his wife and his family and the family of the child,” Zirolnik said. “He observed the defendant with a handgun, so we went to check if he was armed and what the story was.”
Growler’s co-owner Joseph Boscia said police apprehended Bonanno in the parking lot adjacent to the restaurant. Boscia added that Bonanno seemed to go peacefully with the police, and was relieved nobody got hurt.
“We’ve got a small neighborhood place,” Boscia said. “On a Tuesday night we actually have a full crowd that plays trivia. Your mind starts racing; God forbid what this guy could have done. Fortunately enough he went peacefully.”
Bonanno was arraigned by Tuckahoe village justice David Fuller on Aug. 13, and appeared before the village court for a second time on Aug. 20.
Noto said could the criminal posession of weapons charges Bonanno was hit with lead to “significant” prison time, but also noted Bonanno does not appear to have a criminal history, which may factor positively in a future judgment.
Bonanno’s attorney, Paul Gentile, formerly Bronx County District Attorney from 1987-1988, described Bonanno as an avid outdoorsman and firearms collector who regularly goes to the shooting range. He also maintained that his client was not dangerous, citing his lack of a criminal record as proof.
“My client is a collector of firearms of all different kinds,” Gentile said. “People who collect firearms frequently collect them in great numbers, 30 or so. They like to have all the paraphernalia that goes with it, that doesn’t make them domestic terrorists.”
Gentile said he first met Bonanno around four years ago, when he defended him against a DUI charge that was ultimately dropped. He characterized his client as a regular partner of military and law enforcement officials who cooperated fully with authorities during his arrest.
He claimed Bonanno and his ex wife were on good terms, noting she had declined to press charges herself, and blamed the media attention the arrest has received on overzealous village police.
“I don’t represent bad people,” Gentile, who denied there had been a dispute between Bonanno and his ex-wife earlier in the day, said. “All the weapons that were recovered were recovered because Dr. Bonanno told the police officers where they were. There was no great police investigation here,, so they are bringing charges here without support or cooperation.”
When asked why Bonanno chose to drive most of his weapons collection several hours upstate to attend a family barbeque, Gentile said it would “shake out in the trial.”
“It had no connection to the case at all,” Gentile said. “Maybe he had put it in the trunk a long time ago and it just sat there. It was just there.”
Both Noto and Gentile said Bonanno had been scheduled to perform an operation the day following his arrest. Bonanno maintains a practice in Manhattan, but attempts to contact that practice proved unsuccessful.
The case against Bonanno is being handled by the Westchester DA’s office, who said they will continue looking into what he planned to do with the weapons he had at the time of his arrest. Gentile worries the media coverage around the circumstances of Bonanno’s arrest may make finding an impartial jury in New York difficult.
Zirolnik, who has worked with the Tuckahoe Police Department for 15 years, said the situation was unlike any he had encountered in his previous decade and a half on the village force.