Manhattan DA: Illegal knives found on shelves at NYC chain stores, probe reels in 1,300 blades

NEW YORK (AP) — Home Depot, a Beretta subsidiary and other retailers ranging from sporting-goods chains to a local locksmith have agreed to stop selling quick-release knives at New York City stores after prosecutors said the shops sold banned blades to undercover investigators.

Investigators so far have swooped up more than 1,300 knives, spanning from pearl-handled blades to items sold for cutting linoleum.

All met the state's definition of switchblades and gravity knives, which are generally illegal in New York because they can be concealed easily and brandished quickly, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.

"It became clear to us that illegal knives are not only sold in street corners and in alleyways but in popular and legitimate stores," Vance said at a news conference.

While the city has cracked down on illegal guns in recent years, knives are also a menace, Vance said. About one-third of the homicides in Manhattan in 2009 and so far this year were committed with knives, he said.

Posing as customers, investigators fanned out to 41 sporting goods, hardware, army surplus and other stores this year. Fourteen stores sold the investigators illegal knives, prosecutors said.

Some stores said they didn't realize the blades were illegal. But hidden-camera video from some encounters, shot in stores prosecutors declined to identify, showed at least some salespeople were well aware the knives were forbidden.

"If you carry it like this and the cops see it, you are either, A, going to get a ticket or, B, might get arrested," an unidentified salesman tells an undercover officer in one video clip. "So if you can, just keep it in your pocket."

Investigations continue at seven of the stores, which prosecutors declined to name.

The other seven made deals with the DA to avoid being prosecuted. The agreements call for the retailers to stop selling certain knives, pay the state and city $1.9 million in profits from previous sales and finance a $900,000 public-awareness campaign about knife violence.

The companies otherwise could have faced misdemeanor weapons-possession charges punishable by thousands of dollars in fines.

Home Depot Inc. says the agreement affects eight products the Atlanta-based home-improvement giant sold as utility knives and didn't realize were illegal in New York.

"The Home Depot accepts responsibility for selling the knives in question. The knives are similar, and in many cases, identical, to products sold by other retailers in the New York City area and around the country for many years to do-it-yourself customers and professional contractors," spokesman Stephen Holmes said.

Eastern Mountain Sports, an outdoors emporium also involved in the agreement, said in a statement it cooperated despite not believing it was violating the law by selling products intended for campers and hikers. They often need knives that can be opened with one hand, the Peterborough, New Hampshire-based company noted.

The Orvis Co. was working to make sure its merchandise complies with the varying laws in states where it has stores, said James Hathaway, a spokesman for the Sunderland, Vermont-based outdoors emporium.

The Paragon Sporting Goods Store, a well-known Manhattan and online retailer, was working to educate employees about the issue, said a lawyer for the company, Paul F. Callan. He said the agreement would pull a small percentage of Paragon's knife stock from its shelves.

Representatives for the Beretta subsidiary — Cougar Corp., which runs the gun manufacturer's Manhattan gallery — declined to comment.

As for the other two businesses involved, Citywide Locksmith Inc. didn't immediately return a telephone call, and no working telephone number could be found for Native Leather Ltd.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city has been aggressive about going after illegal guns. Efforts have included sending investigators to conduct stings targeting out-of-state gun dealers whose weapons, officials say, end up on New York City streets.

Vance suggested his office might do likewise as its knife probe continues.