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    No prison for man who flew with gun

    The Valrico man gets two years' probation for carrying a weapon in his briefcase on a Delta flight to Memphis.

    By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 15, 2002


    It was just three months after the terrorist attacks. Air travelers were jittery, transportation officials wanted tougher security, and U.S.-backed forces searched the caves of Tora Bora for Osama bin Laden.

    Against that backdrop, Barry Brunstein walked onto a Delta Air Lines flight with a loaded .380-caliber handgun.

    His arrest by the FBI received nationwide publicity and raised anew concerns about airline safety.

    On Friday, six months after the incident, a sympathetic federal judge in Memphis sentenced him to two years of probation and levied a $5,000 fine.

    The light punishment handed down Friday to Brunstein, who faced up to 10 years in prison, was bittersweet: He's now a felon.

    "He couldn't have been more grateful," said Larry Parrish, Brunstein's Memphis lawyer. "But it's hard to live with the fact that you're a felon."

    Parrish said the proceeding was cordial. Federal Judge Julia Gibbons remarked on Brunstein's stellar life and expressed sympathy toward the former Boy Scout leader, Parrish said.

    "She said she had never seen a person with such an unblemished record or history," he said.

    Parrish called the sentence fair and said he appreciated prosecutors' not objecting to it.

    Brunstein, a self-employed truck crash investigator, said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times shortly after the Dec. 28 incident that he didn't realize his .380-caliber handgun was inside his black leather briefcase when he boarded a Delta flight from Tampa to Atlanta and then Memphis.

    Brunstein put the gun in his briefcase two weeks earlier while on a business trip to Orlando. He usually carries it in his waistband and just forgot it was in the briefcase, he said. Brunstein had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

    The day he was arrested, he was flying to Memphis to qualify for a Delta Air Lines frequent flier program.

    Scanners at Tampa International Airport missed the gun. When he arrived in Memphis, a security agent conducting random checks found the weapon.

    FBI agents arrested him and he had to post $5,000 bail to get out of jail.

    The timing of the mistake only made matters worse for Brunstein. Brunstein feared he would suffer from the backlash.

    "It was unfortunate the federal law didn't have a misdemeanor for a person who did what Mr. Brunstein did," Parrish said. "It's that failure on the part of the federal law that causes people like him to get caught up in it. It's just a downside of a no-tolerance policy."

    Parrish said that Brunstein, who offers expert testimony in truck crashes, has had his credibility questioned in court. Two potential clients backed out after learning of the case against him. And another tried to question his honesty, but that matter was quashed by the presiding judge.

    Parrish said Judge Gibbons' comments in court will help Brunstein in future business-related cases.

    Brunstein, who was flying home to Tampa Friday afternoon, could not be reached for comment.

    Parrish said Brunstein will resume a quiet life back in Valrico and is glad the incident is behind him.

    "He has to live the same life he was living before," Parrish said. "Not much has changed -- except there's not any room for any messing up."

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