Federal Documents Reveal More about Priest-teen Weapons Case

By Alex Wood
Journal Inquirer
December 19, 2016

After law enforcement officers found silencers, material for making pipe bombs, and other contraband on the East Windsor property where teenager Kyle Bass lived in 2013, Bass told them that his priest, the Rev. Paul A. Gotta, had paid for several of the items, including a gun.

He said the gun and thousands of rounds of ammunition were hidden in a bin beneath the stairs of the rectory of St. Phillip Church on South Main Street, one of two Roman Catholic parishes in East Windsor that Gotta served as administrator.

Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and East Windsor police subsequently visited the rectory and received consent to search it. Gotta denied ever receiving a gun from Bass, and the agents found nothing beneath the basement stairs, although they saw scrape marks on the floor, indicating that something heavy had been dragged across it.

A few days later, ATF received a call from Gotta’s lawyer, who said he wanted to give them something. They returned to the rectory and were given a bin identical to the one Bass had described, weighing several hundred pounds.

Gotta said nothing about the contents of the bin and didn’t even give the agents a key to it. When the agents broke the lock, they found a .357-caliber handgun, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and a survival guide.

That is among the information in a memorandum filed this month by federal prosecutor Robert M. Spector to aid a judge in determining Gotta’s sentence. Gotta pleaded guilty in March to a single count of providing explosive material, gun powder, to a person younger than 21, Bass, who turned 18 in March 2013.

Gotta’s federal indictment, issued in January 2014, had charged him with several other crimes as well, including aiding and encouraging the illegal transportation of a gun across state lines. That count was based on statements by Bass that Gotta gave him $350 to buy the .357-caliber handgun found in the bin. Bass had bought the handgun at a gun show in Arizona in July 2012, using fake identification.

Judge Robert N. Chatigny was scheduled to sentence Gotta last week in U.S. District Court in Hartford, but the sentencing was delayed when the judge refused to consider evidence the prosecutor wanted to present that Gotta had sexually assaulted Bass.

The sentencing has yet to be rescheduled. But when it finally takes place, the judge can consider the conduct underlying all six counts of the federal indictment, each relating to Gotta’s dealings with Bass on matters involving guns and explosives, in determining Gotta’s sentence for the single count he has pleaded guilty to.

Consciousness of guilt?

After Gotta was arrested on the federal firearms and explosives charges in July 2013, he made a statement to agents denying that he had paid Bass to buy the handgun in Arizona but admitting that he took it from Bass for safekeeping after the Arizona trip, the prosecutor wrote.

The circumstances of the gun’s discovery could prove significant in the judge’s decision as to what to believe on that issue. The prosecutor undoubtedly will point to Gotta’s initial denial that he had received a gun from Bass and his failure to turn it over during the first search of the rectory as evidence of “consciousness of guilt.”

The prosecutor also points to other evidence indicating that Gotta was more involved in Bass’ illegal activity than he has admitted.

For example, the prosecutor says, one law enforcement search uncovered in Gotta’s desk a piece of paper, in Bass’ handwriting, listing all the components needed to make a pipe bomb.

“The paper also included notations in Gotta’s handwriting about what kind of explosive powder to buy,” the prosecutor wrote.

Gotta maintains that he bought the gunpowder for Bass believing he intended to use it to refill shotgun shells.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Gotta to receive a sentence in the range of six to 12 months in prison. The guidelines permit alternative forms of incarceration, such as house arrest, when the sentence recommendation falls in that range.

Gotta’s lawyer, Moira L. Buckley, argues vigorously in her sentencing memorandum that he should receive house arrest, or even a sentence of probation without confinement.

Suffered stroke

After Gotta’s arrest in July 2013, the priest was held for a week at the privately owned Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The day after he was released on bond, he suffered a stroke, which he blames on his being deprived of blood pressure medication when he was in jail, Buckley says.

Moreover, the defense lawyer argues, Gotta, 58, has already essentially served the recommended sentence. He spent more than two years in house arrest while on bond, although for much of that time he was allowed to leave his sister’s Bridgeport house for three half-hour periods each day to walk his dog.

Gotta was the first to alert law-enforcement agencies to the situation when he complained in May 2013 that Bass was acting in a threatening manner toward him and making comments suggesting that he might be considering mass violence, possibly targeting his school. Bass responded by giving authorities information that the priest was involved in his activities and by making the sexual assault accusations.

The prosecutor outlines communications indicating wild swings in their relationship in May 2013:

• On May 8, Gotta sent Bass a text message asking him to return two rifles and $1,800 that were supposedly birthday gifts from the priest.

• The next day, Gotta sent Bass another text saying, “keep $, luv u, goodbye.”

• The day after that, Gotta obtained an order prohibiting Bass from trespassing on church property.

• On May 19, Gotta sent an email to Bass’ Boy Scout committee attacking his character and questioning his qualifications to be an Eagle Scout.

• The next day, Gotta texted Bass, saying the no-trespass order had been lifted. Also on May 20, Gotta signed a form making Bass a 50 percent beneficiary of his life-insurance policy.

• Three days later, Gotta called East Windsor police to report that he had found three rounds of ammunition at his front door and suspected Bass was behind it.

That was the start of the series of complaints and cross complaints between Gotta and Bass that have been playing out ever since in state and federal criminal courts.

So far, neither of them has received a prison sentence. Bass was convicted in Hartford Superior Court of two counts of possession of silencers and got a suspended sentence and probation. Gotta plea bargained the sexual assault case against him in the same court with a misdemeanor conviction for second-degree breach of peace, based on a non-sexual assault, for which he receive a suspended sentence and a conditional discharge, which is similar to probation.








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