TAMPA — Housing officials at MacDill Air Force Base thought they were cutting Scott Allan Bennett a break.
They said Bennett told them in 2010 that he was an active duty Army Reserve officer and aide to the chief at U.S. Special Operations Command. He couldn't immediately provide his orders, they said, claiming they were top secret. But he still got the keys to an apartment at the Tampa base.
A break like that is no longer easy to come by — at MacDill or at bases around the nation.
MacDill's civilian housing officials testified at Bennett's federal criminal trial Tuesday that they won't allow anyone to occupy base housing before presenting military orders verifying active-duty status and eligible to rent.
"We cannot make judgment calls and act on good faith any longer," said Geri Leto, MacDill's housing coordinator, noting that the policy shift is nationwide.
Bennett's claims, prosecutors said, were all false: He was in the Army Reserve but not on active duty when he applied for an apartment. And they said he was not an aide to SOCom's commander. Instead, he was a civilian intelligence analyst for U.S. Central Command at MacDill, working for a private contractor.
Housing at MacDill and on military bases elsewhere is increasingly privatized. A company builds and owns housing units, but the military sets the rules as to who gets base housing. At MacDill, only active duty personnel qualify.
MacDill housing officials testified that before Bennett's case, they sometimes allowed personnel to occupy housing without orders. They did so with the understanding the orders would be provided soon.
But Bennett managed to spend nearly three months in an apartment without providing orders.
After Bennett's arrest, MacDill housing official Larry Hess said, a national review was conducted to see how verification of orders was handled at bases.
Some personnel still can get into housing without orders. But approval no longer can come from the employees of private companies managing properties. At MacDill, that means an official working directly for the base must sign off.
Once assigned housing in January 2010, Bennett stashed 10 guns and 9,000 rounds of ammunition on base, prosecutors say. Details emerged after Bennett was arrested at a MacDill gate on a charge of driving under the influence in April 2010.
Bennett, 40, who denies wrongdoing, is charged with lying to get his MacDill apartment, wearing an unauthorized uniform and keeping weapons without registering them with base security.
The trial resumes today.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.