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Lawyer claims medical issues kept Sewickley Township man from contempt hearing

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

A Sewickley Township man accused of failing to disclose gas royalties when applying for welfare benefits didn't show up on Tuesday for a contempt hearing connected to a 1992 homicide case in which he owes about $3,000 in restitution.

Defense attorney Dante Bertani said John J. Basista, 50, was having medical issues that required hospitalization and was unable to attend the hearing.

Judge Christopher Feliciani opted to send a bench warrant letter to Basista and asked Bertani to provide medical records.

“He still needs to get in here,” Feliciani said. “If he doesn't appear, we'll issue a bench warrant.”

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, located behind his secluded home on Brunazzi Road.

Prosecutors are seeking about $3,000 in restitution for funeral expenses from Basista, who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter during a nonjury trial for shooting and killing Jeff Peden, 26, on May 24, 1992.

After the brief hearing, Assistant District Attorney Wayne Gongaware said he is suspicious of Basista's claims of medical issues.

“I'd be shocked if he did,” said Gongaware, who was the prosecutor in the 1992 case.

Basista has paid $4,000 of the $7,000 in restitution that he was ordered to pay since his conviction in 1993, Gongaware said. Court records show that he made a $75 payment on May 6 and a $50 payment on Aug. 5, a week after the new accusations were reported in the Tribune-Review. Another $50 payment was made on Tuesday, court records show.

The two men worked for the same trucking company when Basista shot and killed Peden with a handgun in a garage off Herminie-Lowber Road in Sewickley. Basista claimed he shot Peden in self-defense. He was sentenced to serve five to 10 years in prison, in addition to the restitution.

Basista is charged with fraudulently obtaining assistance in the gas well royalties case. Investigators allege he failed to report the royalties as income to the Department of Public Welfare on applications for benefits and a low-income heating energy assistance program.

Basista previously told a reporter that he hasn't worked since 2007 because of a medical condition.

A preliminary hearing before District Judge James Albert on the fraud charge is set for Aug. 28. The contempt hearing has not been rescheduled.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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