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Teen swapped beer for ‘hunting trip’ shotgun — then used it for murder, NY prosecutors say

Charlie Tan faces federal firearms charges in his father's 2015 Pittsford, New York, shooting death after murder charges against him were dismissed, court records said.
Charlie Tan faces federal firearms charges in his father's 2015 Pittsford, New York, shooting death after murder charges against him were dismissed, court records said. Monroe County Sheriff's Office

A Canadian teenager was turned away from an upstate New York Walmart when he tried to buy a gun to murder his father in 2015 — so he got creative, according to prosecutors.

Charlie Tan, now 22, was tried in his father’s shooting death in 2015, but the charges were dismissed. Now Tan faces a new trial this month on federal firearms charges related to his father’s death. And court records filed Tuesday reveal just how hard Tan allegedly worked to illegally acquire a gun to kill his dad.

Tan first tried to buy a shotgun himself at a Walmart around noon on Feb. 5, 2015, when he was a 19-year-old student at Cornell University, federal prosecutors said. Earlier in the day, Tan zeroed out his bank account — withdrawing some $1,000 — and told his sprint football coach he would miss a workout the next day. Tan was “visibly upset,” the coach said, and cited “family problems” to explain his planned absence, according to court records.

But Tan and Walmart employees had trouble submitting ATF background check paperwork to complete the gun sale that day — and when workers called ATF, they learned the sale would be delayed, court records said. After about 45 minutes in the store, Tan left empty handed.

That’s when Tan called and texted a fraternity brother for help, court records said. Tan explained that “he needed the firearm immediately for a hunting trip,” but couldn’t buy it himself because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Tan offered the friend $100 to buy him the gun, court records said.

The Brady Act made background checks a requirement for guns purchased through licensed dealers. Here’s a brief look at how the current system works.

The pair went back to the same Walmart in Cortland, New York, where Tan gave his friend $800 cash, court records said. The friend went in alone, but learned he couldn’t buy a gun either because he lived in Ithaca but had an address listed elsewhere.

Tan wasn’t about to give up, though, according to prosecutors. He drove the friend to the DMV, where the friend changed his address. After that, the friend went back into Walmart. He came back with the weapon Tan tired to buy earlier, according to court records: a Remington Model 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun. He also bought two boxes of ammunition.

The friend gave Tan what was left of the $800, court records said, and Tan gave him a case of beer (not the promised $100) for his trouble.

Four days later, Tan’s mother called 911 from the family’s home Pittsford, New York. She said her son had shot his father, Liang Tan, according to court records.

“I had to do it, he was going to kill my mom,” Tan told first responders at the scene, court records said. Tan also told an officer the gun he used (the one his friend had just purchased) was in the garage. The father was dead of multiple gunshot wounds, including a shot at close range to the face, police said.

In the weeks before the father's death, police responded to the family's home on reports that Liang Tan had assaulted his wife, Qing, according to court records. But when officers determined a felony had not been committed, Qing decided not to press charges and Liang agreed to sleep elsewhere that night.

Liang Tan, 49, had been the CEO of Dynamax Imaging — a semiconductor supplier — before his death, the New York Daily News reports.

Charlie Tan faced murder charges in 2015, which ended in a mistrial, WHAM reports. Then, during a court appearance to set the date for a new trial, a judge shocked prosecutors by dismissing the murder charge Tan faced, saying the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence.

Prosecutor Bill Gargan argued he did have evidence, shouting into the court microphone, until the judge silenced the prosecutor and threatened to have him handcuffed, WHAM reports.

And even though an appeals court said the judge’s dismissal of the murder charge was an error, Tan still couldn’t be re-tried in his father’s death because the court couldn’t reverse the earlier decision, the Democrat and Chronicle reports.

Now, though, Tan faces three new federal charges — one count of receiving a firearm with intent to commit an offense, and two counts of making a false statement during purchase of a firearm, according to an indictment.

Tan has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is being held without bail, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York.

Tan’s six-day trial is set to be held later this month at a federal court in Syracuse.

Polls show solid support for stricter laws, especially after mass shootings. But there are also deep disagreement, staunch opposition and growing disenchantment with gun control.

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