An East Quogue woman charged with trespassing last week after taking photos at the Air National Guard base at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton—while carrying an assault rifle, a shotgun and 500 rounds of ammunition in her car—said Monday that her arrest was a simple misunderstanding.
Nancy Genovese, 49, was arrested on Thursday, July 30, by the Suffolk County sheriff’s office after ANG officials said they observed her taking photographs near the entrance to the base, though she had been previously warned not to do so. At the time of her arrest, authorities said Ms. Genovese had an XM-15 assault rifle and a shotgun—both registered and unloaded—in her car, and an estimated 500 rounds of ammunition in her trunk.
“They were telling me I was a terrorist,” Ms. Genovese said on Monday, just hours after she was released from the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside after posting $50,000 bail. “I said, ‘This can’t be happening in America.’
“They thought it was a big joke because I was a terrorist,” she added.
In an interview at her Lakeland Avenue home Monday afternoon, Ms. Genovese said she was driving home in her Saturn Sky convertible from a shooting range in Ridge at around 6 p.m. on July 30 when she decided to stop to take a photo of the base’s exterior. Ms. Genovese, a retired bulding supply sales representative who describes herself as extremely patriotic, said she pulled over onto the shoulder on Old Riverhead Road to snap a photo of the HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter that sits near the entrance to the base so she could upload it to a website that supports American troops.
“This can happen to anybody,” Ms. Genovese said while the Fox News show “Glenn Beck” was playing on a television in her home.
She stressed that both of her weapons were registered and unloaded at the time of her arrest, and she insists that ANG officials had never warned her to stay away from the base. She did note, however, that she had visited the Westhampton base before and had been questioned at that time.
Authorities and ANG representatives said this week that Ms. Genovese had been explicitly warned in mid-July to stay away from the base. They also said she was arrested last week after she drove her car just outside the fence, near the entrance to the base.
“She was basically notified that if she didn’t have official business, she was not allowed on our grounds,” said Major Scott Williams, the wing executive officer and media contact for the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing.
Major Williams said Ms. Genovese had been spotted once before snooping around on base property, and ANG members had written down her personal information. They were told to notify authorities if she appeared on the base again, he said: “They were keeping an eye out for her.”
Major Williams pointed out that signs located next to the helicopter read “the use of cameras or video equipment is prohibited,” and explained that the ANG prefers that no one take photos of the base. He said that if anyone is caught taking photos without prior permission, they will be questioned by base officials.
Ms. Genovese recalls a different version of events. She said that when she stopped near the base last month to take a photo of the helicopter, a guard began asking her questions about her two-seat sports car.
“He wanted to drive my car,” she recalled, adding that she was unable to take a photo because her digital camera would not work.
Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Robert Iberger, who was off duty at the time and just happened to be driving past the base last Thursday night, recognized Ms. Genovese when she stopped to take photographs, according to Suffolk County Undersheriff Joseph T. Caracappa. Lt. Iberger then alerted ANG officials that Ms. Genovese was near the base, Mr. Caracappa said. It is not clear how many photographs she had taken of the base.
Lt. Iberger did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
After they detained Ms. Genovese last week, ANG officials spotted the two weapons in her car and, in turn, notified the sheriff’s office.
“She said she was doing nothing wrong,” said Mr. Caracappa, adding that she was arrested because she ignored the warnings of base officials.
Ms. Genovese, a mother of three, was charged with criminal trespass in the third degree, a misdemeanor, and arraigned in Southampton Town Justice Court on Friday. She spent four nights at the Suffolk County Jail until her children were able to post her bail Monday afternoon. She has not yet retained a lawyer and was represented by a legal aid attorney at her arraignment.
Ms. Genovese, who said she has been firing shotguns at the range since she was a child, explained that she had visited the Long Island Shooting Range of Brookhaven in Ridge last Thursday, July 30, but did not shoot any weapons because of an ankle injury. She said that she has taken four shooting lessons at the range in the past few months.