The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

Sect member fears violent end to siege Man, in hiding from ATF, denies cult has illegal weapons, drugs

A Branch Davidian in hiding since his indictment on federal gun charges said Sunday that he fears a standoff between sect leader David Koresh and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will end in a blood bath.

Paul G. Fatta has been on the run since federal authorities issued a warrant for his arrest March 6. He said in a telephone interview Sunday that he believes the ATF and the FBI are building a web of lies to justify an aborted Feb. 28 raid on the compound and whip up public support for a new assault on the sect compound.

"They're being made to look like suicidal drug addicts,' he said of his fellow sect members. "And they're just trying to paint a picture that David Koresh is a violent and crazy guy. The ATF is trying to create opinion in the public so they can go in there and massacre the people.'

Mr. Fatta said he is being falsely accused in a sealed federal indictment of illegally manufacturing machine guns. He insisted that the sect has no illegal weapons and that he knew nothing about explosives that federal officials charge the group has amassed.

Mr. Fatta, who denied federal officials' contention that he is armed and dangerous, said he called The Dallas Morning News because, "At this point, I'm a little voice out there saying there's another side to this story.'

The latest lie, he said, is an allegation by federal agents that the sect may have financed its activities with drug trafficking -- including operation of a methamphetamine lab.

State and federal officials confirmed last week that Texas National Guard aircraft flew reconnaissance flights over the compound at the request of federal agents and found "hot spots' in infrared photographs that are commonly associated with illegal methamphetamine labs.

But Mr. Fatta insisted that those hot spots were two industrial, diesel-fueled heaters used to heat the group's communal areas.

The 35-year-old sect member and his 14-year-old son were not at the compound during the Feb. 28 federal raid because they had gone to Austin to attend a gun show.

Mr. Fatta said he returned to find the road to the Mount Carmel compound blocked and frantically called friends and the McLennan County Sheriff's Department to try to learn what was happening.

In calls to sheriff's deputies, he said, "I said, "Am I in trouble? Is there a problem with me or something?' And they said, "No, nothing.' '

For the next week, he said, he stayed in one of the same Waco motels being used by law enforcement officers involved in the standoff.

"They're saying I'm armed and dangerous. If I wanted to go and start killing people . . . I would have done it then.'

After The New York Times published an extensive interview with Mr. Fatta on March 6 a warrant was issued for his arrest. "They wanted to shut me up. I could make things bad for them,' he said.

Mr. Fatta also disputed federal contentions that a business he ran, the Mag Bag, was a front for illegal weapons purchases. Federal officials raided the building, a garage located about four miles from the Branch Davidian compound, on March 9 but found only six shotgun shells.

Mr. Fatta said federal agents appeared to know nothing about the building or its use by the sect until a reporter approached them and mentioned that a cat appeared to be stuck inside without any food or water. Federal officials have said, however, that they had been monitoring shipments of chemicals, grenade hulls and other weapons materiel to the building for months.

Mr. Fatta said the Mag Bag was an outgrowth of gun purchases sect members began making two years ago. Although he maintained that the weapons were viewed primarily as an investment, he conceded that the group also wanted firearms for self-defense.

The firearms obtained by the group -- which include two .50 caliber sniper rifles -- were all bought legally and were not modified illegally after they were obtained, he said.

He also disputed federal officials' statements that the compound's second-story rooms that were targets of the ATF assault contained a massive armory or storage room for the sect's guns.

"They went into an empty room,' he said.

The group once stored weapons in that area but now keeps them in a locked concrete vault.

Although he is the object of a nationwide manhunt, Mr. Fatta said he believes that he can stay hidden because he is relying on a loose network of sympathizers.

He said he was almost captured late last week but managed to escape with the help of friends. Since then, he said, he has lived on cash he had with him at the time he left the compound. He moves around frequently, he said, but communicates occasionally with his mother and cult members still living in California.