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Federal jury convicts man of lying about military status, bringing weapons to MacDill Air Force Base

TAMPA — The government will continue to meet Scott Allan Bennett's housing needs.

A jury convicted the civilian defense analyst Thursday on charges that he lied about being on active duty and posed as an aide to the chief of U.S. Special Forces so he could get an apartment at MacDill Air Force Base.

Jurors deliberated for an hour before finding Bennett guilty of four charges that could send him to prison for up to 71/2 years. Bennett, 40, displayed no emotion as the verdict was announced and a judge ordered him into immediate custody pending sentencing on Oct. 25.

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington, noting a veritable arsenal of weapons Bennett kept at his MacDill apartment, said he was a danger to the community.

"Mr. Bennett is a very intelligent man," Covington said. "No doubt about it. Sometimes those are the most dangerous."

Bennett was a lieutenant in the Army Reserve who worked for a private defense contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, when he was transferred to MacDill in early 2010 to work as a civilian analyst at U.S. Central Command.

Prosecutor Sara Sweeney told jurors that Bennett, who was not on active duty, put on his Army uniform and bluffed his way onto a military aircraft carrying Adm. Eric Olson, chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, from Washington, D.C., to MacDill.

SOCom and CentCom, which spearhead the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are both headquartered at MacDill.

The next day, Bennett visited the MacDill housing office, still wearing his uniform without authorization, Sweeney said.

Bennett told housing officials that he was Olson's aide and had been instructed by him to get an apartment immediately, Sweeney said.

Only active duty personnel are allowed to live on base.

Officials said Bennett told them he could not immediately provide his orders because they were top secret. But housing officials still gave him the keys to an apartment.

Bennett lived there for nearly three months.

"He knew exactly what to say to get what he wanted," Sweeney told jurors.

Defense attorney David Chalela said housing officials at MacDill made Bennett a scapegoat to cover up their own mistakes. Chalela said his client was honest but perhaps confused about his active duty status.

"When your work performance is lame," Chalela said, "find someone else to blame and bring in the big government train."

Bennett's days at MacDill ended on April 23, 2010, when his BMW was stopped in a random check at MacDill's main Dale Mabry gate at about 2 a.m.

Security personnel thought he seemed confused. Tampa police were summoned, and Bennett was charged with driving under the influence. The charge was dropped.

Police found a loaded handgun in Bennett's pocket and a second gun in his car. At his apartment, security found eight other guns and 9,000 rounds of ammunition.

Bennett was charged with lying to the government, wearing a uniform without authorization and violating security regulations by keeping guns without registering them with the base.

Prosecutors said Bennett didn't behave as he awaited trial. In April, they said, Bennett wore a police uniform and gun to gain access to a military base in Virginia. Bennett denied the allegation.

And last month, prosecutors said, Bennett got into a closed social event at the embassy of Finland in Washington by saying he was a defense attache.

Now, Bennett's military career is probably done. Prosecutors said he will be booted from the Reserve. And Booz Allen Hamilton fired him long ago.

As his trial ended, Bennett was accused of one more lie.

The judge had a U.S. marshal tell Bennett to stop shaking his head during closing arguments, but Bennett continued to do so.

Judge Covington was livid and asked Bennett to explain. His excuse: The officer never told him. The judge threatened Bennett with contempt.

Apparently, she didn't believe him.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

Federal jury convicts man of lying about military status, bringing weapons to MacDill Air Force Base 07/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 12:19am]
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