TAMPA — A man who lives on a tree farm in Pasco County recently answered his door wearing body armor, with a .45-caliber handgun strapped to his chest. He alarmed an acquaintance, the FBI alleges, by talking about killing law enforcement officers.
Paul James Szaraz, 47, isn't supposed to have guns. He's a felon with convictions for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, marijuana possession and drunken driving, records show.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson said in court Monday that investigators found an "enormous" quantity of weapons, ammunition and body armor while searching Szaraz's home north of Moon Lake in Hudson.
FBI spokesman David Couvertier said a SWAT team and Pasco County deputies searched the 12-acre site for hours after arresting Szaraz early Friday. The spokesman did not specify what was found, citing the prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office, but said agents were surprised by both the quantity and the types of weapons.
A court record offered a few hints. In an affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, FBI Special Agent Christopher S. Franck said that the acquaintance, who had known Szaraz for a year, had seen six AK-47 rifles and one .50-caliber BMG rifle in his residence.
Weapons were placed strategically by doors and windows "in order to defend his residence," the agent wrote in the affidavit.
The acquaintance reported that Szaraz spoke at length of being a patriot and mistrusting the federal government and law enforcement.
The tipster "became concerned about Szaraz when he started speaking militantly about recruiting/banding others together in order to kill law enforcement when they come to take their weapons away and put them all in FEMA camps," the affidavit states.
Agent Franck said Szaraz espouses beliefs characteristic of sovereign citizen extremists, a movement the FBI categorizes as domestic terrorism. Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols considered himself a sovereign citizen. Subscribers reject the authority of the government and its laws.
There is cause, Franck wrote, to believe Szaraz has "conspired with other associates to commit violent acts against law enforcement personnel."
The acquaintance initially spoke with Pasco sheriff's Detective Anthony Capo, who provided a recording device and cash for the purchase of a $1,200 AK-47 from Szaraz. The FBI stepped in.
Wilson presided over what was to be a bail hearing on a weapons charge Monday until it was discovered that Szaraz had not yet hired an attorney. Nor had he completed paperwork to qualify for a public defender. He asked Wilson to delay the hearing.
"It's sort of your call because you're the one that's sitting in jail," the judge responded.
Szaraz sat alone at the defense table, his long hair touching the middle of his back. He was calm, polite and articulate as he addressed the judge.
But when he began talking openly about the facts of his case, the judge interrupted, cautioning that anything the defendant said could be used against him.
Szaraz paused, then launched into a verbal attack on the credibility of the acquaintance-turned-FBI witness.
Court documents don't name the acquaintance but call him a former Marine. He has at least a loose tie to the neighborhood: He told investigators that he heard automatic gunfire coming from Szaraz's property at 14232 King Richards Trail "several times."
Szaraz said the man has made false statements about him.
"He's a junkie," Szaraz said. "That's your witness.
"I can't believe I'm sitting here," he said.
The judge reminded Szaraz that he was a felon and that an "enormous" number of weapons had been found at his home.
Szaraz said he wasn't using them.
"You can't have them," the judge shot back. "It's as simple as that."
The hearing was rescheduled for April 2.
News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3382.