TAMPA — The strange story of Scott Allan Bennett — how he posed as an aide to a Special Forces commander, how he tricked MacDill Air Force Base into giving him an apartment, how he stashed 10 guns and 9,389 rounds of ammunition there — never made sense, even after it came to an end in federal court.
Bennett put it all in a 120-page letter to U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington, which he summarized at his sentencing Thursday. "I'm not the profile of a Fort Hood shooter," he said, referring to the Army major in Texas who killed 13 people in 2009. "I'm an independent thinker. I'm a problem solver. I'm someone who asks forgiveness instead of permission."
The judge said she still couldn't understand his motivations, but perhaps he was so entangled in his lies he believed they were true.
Bennett, 40, an Army reservist who worked for a private defense contractor, posed as an active-duty officer attached to Adm. Eric Olson, chief of U.S. Special Operations Command in 2010. Coming to MacDill, he had managed to hitch a ride on Olson's plane, claiming he had emergency orders.
At MacDill, Bennett persuaded housing officials to give him an apartment without showing them written orders. He lived on base for three months.
He was caught when he was stopped at the MacDill gate at 2 a.m. on April 23, 2010, appearing drunk. He had a loaded gun in his pocket and another in the car. In his apartment, security found eight more guns and the ammo.
In July, a federal jury convicted Bennett of lying to the government, wearing a uniform without authorization, and two counts of violating security regulations by keeping guns without registering them with the base.
At the time, Bennett declined to testify. That was the biggest mistake of his life, he told the judge before sentencing on Thursday. Speaking assertively and confidently, he said it was all a big misunderstanding. The true story was in his 120-page letter.
He had an overabundance of "moxie," he said. That had enabled him to earn a master's degree in international commerce and pursue doctoral studies. It got him a job with the Republican National Committee and work with the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he said he helped profile Islamic extremists. He also got a direct commission as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve.
When his employer sent him to MacDill as a civilian analyst at U.S. Central Command, he said he wanted to continue his Army reservist drills there. When he passed himself off as an active-duty officer, he said he wasn't trying to fool anyone, he was just confused by bureaucracy.
As for the guns, Bennett said movers brought them in a gun safe from Washington, D.C. He said he was confused about whether he should register them with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "It was innocent. It was stupid."
Bennett's attorney sought a sentence of a year of home detention and five years of probation. Bennett said he'd like to start a prison ministry.
Judge Covington said he puzzled her. He was too smart, too educated, she said, to be confused by clear MacDill rules on housing and guns.
"I don't know as I sit here if you are one of those individuals who just don't have a regard for the truth. Maybe you don't realize you're being dishonest and you believe your own stories. You say these were little mistakes. You knew what you were doing. You did it on purpose."
The judge said he had "embarrassed and mortified" the MacDill housing staff who tried to help him and also, because of tightened rules, made it harder today for military personnel to get on-base housing.
But she said his greatest offense was endangering "those who put their lives on the line every day protecting our freedoms."
The judge sentenced Bennett to three years in prison.
She urged him to get started on his prison ministry.
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.