A 69-year-old Jacksonville man is guilty of a federal firearm charge filed after he threatened a mass shooting at a Jacksonville mosque, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Bernandino Gawala Bolatete, found guilty Friday of possessing an unregistered firearm silencer, is scheduled for sentencing July 25 and faces up to 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, the state’s Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, welcomed the conviction after the threat to the Islamic Centeron St. Johns Bluff Road.
“We believe that the anti-Muslim rhetoric recklessly spewed, not just by hate groups but also by people in power today, only emboldens fanatics like Bolatete to commit crimes that threaten the foundation of religious freedom in America,” group spokesman Wilfredo Amr Ruiz said.
The investigation started when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office received a tip that Bolatete “expressed a hatred for Muslims and made a specific threat to ‘shoot up’ a mosque,” according to a federal complaint filed against him. He was introduced to an undercover officer, and they went shooting together several times at a gun range, the complaint stated.
The officer recorded conversations with Bolatete. On Nov. 27 the undercover officer was asked if he could get a silencer for a rifle and wanted no paperwork. Bolatete told the officer he had five guns, adding he would probably attack on a Friday since that was when Muslims attended the mosque, the complaint stated.
“The investigation confirmed that the suspect was making plans to carry out a mass shooting, and he already had the weaponry necessary,” Sheriff Mike Williams said in a December news conference on the arrest.
After selling the silencer to the officer for $100, Bolatete was arrested, claiming he had purchased it for hunting, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Investigators went to his Eucalyptus Drive home and found “a significant collection” of guns and ammunition as well as the specific firearms Bolatete told the undercover officer he would use at the mosque.
That officer also learned Bolatete had a kidney problem and didn’t plan to survive the mass shooting.