Man accused of planning mosque shooting pleads not guilty

Bernandino Bolatete denied bond on federal firearms charge

Bernandino Bolatette appears with attorney at his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville.
Bernandino Bolatette appears with attorney at his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. (Courtroom sketch by Steve Bridges)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man accused of planning a mass shooting at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida pleaded not guilty Tuesday before a federal judge.

Bernandino Bolatete, 69, was arrested Dec. 1 after police said he illegally tried to buy a gun suppressor from an undercover detective.

Nearly a dozen guns and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition were seized during a raid of Bolatete's home, federal prosecutors said. He was denied bond.

The number of guns and ammunition was among the evidence presented last week at the U.S. District Courthouse in Jacksonville on the gun charge Bolatete is facing.

Prosecutors corrected some of that information on Tuesday, saying there were 11 guns involved, not 12.

Prosecutors also discussed last week recorded conversations with an undercover detective in which Bolatete discussed his hatred for Muslims and his plans to shoot up the mosque.

A citizen who tipped off authorities to Bolatete's plan said the man said he had kidney problems and would rather shoot up the mosque and take his own life than go on dialysis.

Bolatete's brother and sister told the judge last week that the plot he is accused of isn't true, but the judge found sufficient evidence to deny Bolatete bond.

Earlier in the day, Bolatete's brother, Pedro, said, "It's not true. He's not going to hurt anybody."

Pedro Bolatete was at Tuesday's arraignment, but declined a request for comment.

Last week, Pedro Bolatete said his brother came to the United States from the Philippines about eight years ago and was working at the Wacko's liquor store to support his wife and children, who are still overseas.

"We're not violent people. We are law-abiding, fun-loving, God-fearing citizens," he said. "We go to church every Sunday. Part of our Mass is to pray for peace in the world."

Bolatete's Facebook page includes photos of him at shooting ranges, and a photo showing nine guns. On the page, a friend asked in Tagalong, a Filipino language, ”Ready to meet with a terrorist?” According to a translation tool, Bolatete responded in Tagalog: "The only one to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Pedro Bolatete said his brother owned five or six guns, and there is a reasonable explanation.

"He is a gun aficionado. He likes to collect guns. Really," the brother told News4Jax last week. "We talk about what we are going to do when we retire and go back to the Phillipines.  (We're) talking about, maybe, starting a gun club."

The undercover detective said he met Bolatete at his job, where he talked about buying a silencer off the black market.

"Was thinking of putting that on ... my pistolized AR," Bolatete texted the confidential informant. "It can be used on the 4th of July or New Year time (sic). It can easily blend with the sound of fireworks. Please delete this message after you read it Get what I mean buddy?"

According to the indictment, after the undercover operative sold Bolatete a suppressor for $100 last week, he was arrested on a federal weapons violation. At this point, that is the only criminal charge against him, but it carries a maximum penalty to up to 10 years in prison.

In a transcript of the conversations included in the criminal complaint, Bolatete said he had five rifles, one of which was an AR-15 that can be converted to into an AR-47. He suggested going to the Islamic center on a Friday because it is "their Sunday equivalent to us Christians is Friday ... go up to the tower and start shooting, right? It will be great, right?"

DOCUMENTS: Criminal complaint details charges | 
Islamic Center of NE Florida news release

Williams said the FBI was notified, and plans to protect the center were put into place while the investigation continued. As soon as Bolatete was arrested, the center's imam was informed that "the threat had been neutralized."

Ashraf Shaikh, chairman of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida's board of trustees, said he is aware of periodic threats made to the center during his 40-plus years in Jacksonville and is thankful that nothing like this has ever happened.

"We have our congregational prayers five times a day, and then we have our weekly prayer, and we have school on Saturday, and then another school on Sunday. And we have a full-time school during the week," Shaik said. "A lot is at stake. And a lot of people could have been hurt, God forbid, if anybody had done anything of that nature."

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