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Judge denies bail to Pasco man found with arsenal

TAMPA — If trouble came knocking at Paul James Szaraz's 12-acre spread in west Pasco County, he was ready. His attorney suggests he's a "prepper," a man preparing for a day his nation can't protect him.

But in denying Szaraz bail Tuesday, a judge used another term — "scary" — to describe an arsenal uncovered by FBI agents and Pasco deputies during a March 22 raid on Szaraz's home.

"I've never seen anybody ever have anything close to this, ever," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson, who has been on the bench since 1979. "That's scary, frankly."

The cache, larger than originally described, included 12 AK-47-type rifles, two of them fully automatic; a fully automatic MP44 assault rifle; a German-built MG08/15 machine gun; a .50-caliber sniper rifle; four .45-caliber pistols; scores of AK-47 magazines and more than 17,000 rounds of ammunition, the government prosecutor said.

Szaraz, a felon whose Second Amendment rights have not been restored, can't legally own even one firearm and so was arrested on a federal gun charge.

Making a case against pre-trial release, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen expressed concern for the safety of the so-called "confidential" informer who led authorities to the stockpile.

In jailhouse phone calls, monitored by law enforcement, Szaraz identified the informer to his girlfriend and called him "the rat," Hansen told the judge.

Szaraz, the girlfriend and the informer live in the same rural area, about 4 miles west of the Suncoast Parkway in Hudson.

The tipster's dog died suddenly the night of the arrest, and later, he found a dead rat in his mailbox, Hansen said.

The informer was not named in court records, but an attachment to the criminal complaint described in detail his purchase of a weapon from Szaraz, a transaction recorded by investigators.

He told authorities that Szaraz spoke at length of being a patriot and mistrusting the federal government, but that he had also talked about rallying people to kill law enforcement officers if they came to take away weapons.

When the agents came, there was no gunfire. In the search, they found items relating to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

Szaraz, who faced the judge alone last week and called the informer a "junkie," sat silently this week, with attorney Alex Stavrou doing the talking.

"This is not someone who's used a firearm to threaten anybody," Stavrou said. He pointed out the defendant's ties to the community — a tree service business, real estate and a girlfriend — but the judge rejected bail.

After the hearing, Stavrou said Szaraz doesn't dispute that he's a felon or that weapons were found, but he denies talk of killing law enforcement officers.

The weapons are for "home protection," the attorney said.

Then he indicated that Szaraz might be considered a "prepper."

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Judge denies bail to Pasco man found with arsenal 04/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:32pm]
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