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WASHINGTON – A Camden man arrested for trying to take a loaded handgun into a congressional office building pleaded not guilty Thursday to a felony gun charge.

Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and president of Prestage Farms of South Carolina in Cassatt, is charged with carrying a pistol outside his home or business, a violation of the District of Columbia's strict gun laws. He was arrested Wednesday morning at an entrance to the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill, where many members of Congress have offices.

Prestage, 59, was jailed Wednesday night and arraigned Thursday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court, wearing a business suit, handcuffs and chains around his waist. His attorney, Robert Spagnoletti, entered the plea and requested a speedy trial.

Prosecutors said Prestage is licensed to carry a gun in South Carolina, and didn't object when Spagnoletti asked that Prestage be released until his next court date.

Magistrate Judge Karen Howze ordered Prestage released and required that he check in with pretrial services once a week by telephone until his preliminary hearing Aug. 13.

Spagnoletti declined to comment as he was leaving the courtroom with Prestage.

Prestage, president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council, was scheduled to attend meetings on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss agriculture issues with members of the South Carolina delegation.

He also is a trustee at North Carolina State University and serves on the executive committee of the National Turkey Federation.

U.S. Capitol Police require anyone entering the Capitol complex to walk through a metal detector and send their bags through an X-ray machine. Officer Shennell Antrobus, a police spokesman, said the gun Prestage is charged with carrying was a 9 mm Ruger. It was found in his briefcase, according to court records.

Prestage told the Capitol Police officers at the scene he has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in South Carolina, according to court documents. But he does not have a permit to carry in the District of Columbia.

The semi-automatic handgun was in an ankle holster and contained a magazine with six rounds of ammunition and one round in the chamber, according to the police officer's written statement.

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