Describing him as an “enigma” whose unusual intelligence allowed him to start an energy company but also to assemble an “arsenal of destruction” in his house, a federal judge on Wednesday sent Kurt Cofano to prison for more than five years.
U.S. District Judge W. Scott Hardy imposed a term of 64 months on Cofano, who had threatened to kill government workers and stockpiled the largest collection of bombs and grenades the county bomb squad leader said he’s ever seen in 17 years on the job.
Cofano, 34, of Whitehall, had threatened to attack CIA headquarters and the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, saying he would die in a shootout with police.
He had pleaded guilty in the summer to possession of unregistered destructive devices a year before, on July 9 and 10, 2020.
Prosecutors said he had been building bombs in his house since May of that year and his collection of weapons included a flame-thrower, a rocket launcher and military-style hand grenades.
The bomb squad commander, Richard Painter, said Cofano’s house was filled with so many bombs, grenades and volatile materials that police had to detonate them in backyard pits after boarding up neighbors’ homes to protect them from the blast.
“This was by far the most hazardous, the most complex call I’ve been on,” said Cmdr. Painter.
The judge said Cofano put the entire neighborhood at risk.
“Everyone was living on top of a powder keg,” he said.
Cofano had a total of 12 guns, 14 improvised grenades and nine other bombs labeled M101.
“This was, frankly, a house of horrors,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lusty in asking for a sentence in the guideline range of 57 to 71 months.
Cofano, who represented himself, asked for leniency and told the judge a long story about starting and then losing his own company, Cofano Energy Services.
He said he started it in 2018 and at one point employed 70 people building pipelines for the oil and gas industry.
But he said a major client in Cranberry defaulted on paying $3.2 million for a job, ultimately leading to the demise of his company.
“I went from having 70 employees to being homeless,” Cofano said.
An exam revealed several psychological problems. Judge Hardy acknowledged those issues and said he believes the loss of the business sent Cofano into a mental health decline.
But he also said businesses succeed and fail in a free market economy and that the collapse of a company does not excuse building an illegal arsenal with the intent to kill people.
“This is not behavior that this country, or this court, can countenance,” he said.
The case began on July 9, 2020, when a former friend of Cofano’s called Whitehall police to express his concern that Cofano was addicted to methamphetamines.
In text messages, Cofano had said “the friend you knew died a year ago. What remains is a demon you don’t want anything to do with.”
Cofano railed against a “corrupt government” and said he was considering suicide by police after driving to Harrisburg to kill everyone in the state Treasury Department or driving to Washington, D.C., to murder as many CIA employees as he could before they killed him.
He also sent videos to the friend showing himself mixing chemicals and using a flame-thrower.
Whitehall officers had been to the house a month before, after Cofano had issued threats on social media. He said at the time that he was “venting.”
But after receiving the information from the friend on July 9, police alerted the FBI and the ATF. They also asked the health department for a 302, or involuntary mental health commitment, and an alert went out to find Cofano.
Police spotted his car in Dormont and as he drove into Mount Lebanon, he waved police over to him on Washington Road. Officers approached and saw guns in the car. Cofano told them he had guns and M-80-style devices.
Police obtained a search warrant for the car and called in the bomb squad, which found detonators, triggers, fuses, rifles, ammunition and marijuana.
While police took Cofano to the hospital, the bomb squad and federal agents searched the house.
Cmdr. Painter said every room, with the exception of an upstairs bathroom, contained bombs or bomb-making materials.
“There were explosives strewn throughout the house,” he said.
In addition to the various bombs and grenades, law enforcement found three assault rifles, including one mounted with a rocket-launcher, as well as a shotgun, other rifles and pistols.
Judge Hardy said Cofano is an atypical federal defendant because of his high intelligence and his lack of a criminal record before this incident.
“You are a person of unusual promise,” he said.
He told Cofano to do his time and then use his smarts to become productive member of society when he gets out.
U.S. marshals cuffed Cofano and led him away.
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