ST. PETERSBURG — A team of federal agents on Tuesday were investigating the alleged illegal manufacture of firearms in a one-story home north of downtown.
Scott Etheridge, a supervisor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office in Tampa, served a search warrant at the home at 3010 First St. N. Nearby homes were evacuated as well.
The owner of the home, Pierre Diligent, 59, was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon under the Baker Act, a state law that empowers police officers to take people who seem likely to harm themselves or others because of mental illness to a hospital for psychological evaluation.
Wearing a yellow tarp over his head to avoid the stares of neighbors, Diligent — a short, stout man in sweatpants — walked shakily to the patrol car on the arm of an officer.
In response to a question from a reporter, he mumbled, "I can't think."
Etheridge said ATF agents obtained the warrant after following Diligent's activities as he bought and sold guns online, and the agency is investigating whether weapons and equipment discovered at the home represent a violation of federal firearms law.
Behind yellow tape, gloved agents could be seen placing rifles in boxes.
They rented a U-Haul trailer after realizing the evidence they were collecting was too heavy to carry in a police cruiser.
Etheridge said Diligent was at home with his 12-year-old daughter at the time of the raid.
Diligent's wife, Jae, a corporate accountant, left her office in Tampa to pick up the girl.
"I don't know what's really going on," she said. "My husband has been a longtime gun collector and buyer. He just retired and liked antiquing and liked the stories of antique guns."
Jae Diligent said her husband, who typically goes by the name Peter, grew up in Vienna and Paris. He had worked as a program director at an area youth detention center before his retirement. She insisted that he was a normal retired man.
"He stayed in bed all days, somedays, and gets depressed," she said. "But that's what men do."
She called the raid on her home "traumatic."
"They are overreacting, and I felt invaded," she said. "I felt like I was taking a bath and somebody looked through the window."
Lou Buttner, 45, who lives next door at 101 30th Ave. N, said he frequently had Pierre Diligent over for beers while his wife was at work, and would tease him about the French beer he favored.
Buttner said Diligent often talked about guns and bragged about ones he had built.