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Fraud case reopens old wound

| Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, 1:46 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Mary Lou Peden, 78, of New Stanton holds a photograph of her son Jeff who was killed in a shooting in 1992 when he was 26 years old.

Mary Lou Peden picked up a newspaper on Tuesday and read a story about a man whose name she can't forget.

“I was sick,” Peden said on Thursday.

The Tribune-Review article was about John J. Basista, 50, of Sewickley Township, the man who shot and killed her son in 1992.

Basista was charged last month with failing to disclose $206,346.29 in gas royalties when he filed for state welfare benefits last year. He had collected $1,726 in food stamps in 2013, according to court records.

Investigators said Basista was paid the royalties from the Basista-Demotta gas wells, about 200 yards behind his secluded home on Brunazzi Road.

Meanwhile, he owes Peden about $3,200 for funeral and other expenses for killing her 26-year-old son, Jeff, in 1992.

A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 19 before Westmoreland County Judge Christopher Feliciani to determine whether Basista should be held in contempt for nonpayment of restitution, according to court records.

Basista made his last restitution payment — for $75 — on May 6, according to court records. He made a $50 payment on Dec. 6, 2013.

Basista was charged with criminal homicide in Peden's death.

Jeff Peden, Basista and Basista's sister, Barbara, worked for the same trucking company when Basista fired the handgun in a garage off Herminie-Lowber Road in Sewickley on May 24, 1992, Mary Lou Peden said. Her son died the next day in a Pittsburgh hospital.

Basista claimed he shot Peden in self-defense.

Judge Gary Caruso, who is now retired, found Basista guilty of voluntary manslaughter during a nonjury trial in 1993, according to court records. He was sentenced to serve five to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $7,000 in restitution.

Peden, 78, of New Stanton, said she got a call from the county's Victim/Witness Services office this week alerting her to the news story.

She was dismayed to read that Basista collected six figures in royalties from Chevron while paying her about $25 a month in restitution.

“I think he's stupid,” she said. “He knew what he was doing the whole time he applied (for welfare benefits). They're greedy.”

Basista's case was referred to investigator Melanie Sam of the state Office of Inspector General to confirm his income and household composition, according to the affidavit.

“(Basista) failed to report this (royalty) income to DPW as required on an application for benefits and an application for low-income heating energy assistance program,” Sam wrote in an affidavit.

“(Basista) also provided statements from himself and his sister that she paid his expenses because he was unable to do so,” it states.

Sam declined comment.

Peden said she doesn't care about the money as much as punishing Basista.

“I just want that man to pay every day of his life,” she said. “I'm not a horrible person ... and I care about people. But not him.”

Basista inherited his 216-acre farm from his mother, Margaret Basista, in 2006, according to a gas well lease agreement filed in the county in January 2013.

Basista's phone has been temporarily disconnected, according to a recorded message.

In a brief interview outside his home this week, Basista said he has been out of work for about seven years because of a medical condition. He said he filed for public assistance when he became incapacitated.

“I don't get no income,” he said. “I did not go to work for none of this money. I haven't worked since 2007. So what does a royalty check have to do with food stamps?

“I don't really think it's any of your business,” he told a reporter.

Peden, a welfare department employee for more than 30 years, sometimes pages through her copy of the 509-page transcript from Basista's trial.

“I read it every so often,” she said. “I live it every day. You don't get over that. That was my baby. Jeff was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet.”

Peden said she wants to see Basista again, face to face.

“I'll be there on the 19th, guaranteed,” she said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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