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Prosecutors are appealing length of prison sentences for Proud Boys leaders convicted of Jan. 6 plot

Published: October 17, 2023, 8:12am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is appealing the length of prison sentences for four Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy in the U.S. Capitol attack, challenging punishments that were significantly shorter than what prosecutors had recommended, according to court filings.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly sentenced former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and three lieutenants to prison terms ranging from 15 to 22 years after a jury convicted them in May of plotting to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election.

Tarrio’s 22-year sentence is the longest so far among hundreds of criminal cases stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, but prosecutors had sought 33 years behind bars for the Miami man.

Attorney Nayib Hassan said in an email that the defense team will review prosecutors’ reasoning for appealing the sentencing but is preparing its own appeal and believes it will “prevail on multiple grounds.”

Prosecutors, who made their court filings on Monday, also had recommended sentences of 33 years for former Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; 30 years for Proud Boys chapter leader Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia; and 27 years in prison for chapter leader Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington.

Kelly sentenced Nordean to 18 years, Biggs to 17 years and Rehl to 15 years.

Defense attorney Norm Pattis, who represents Biggs and Rehl, said in a text message that the government’s appeals are “ridiculous.”

“Merrick Garland needs a new hobby horse,” Pattis said of the attorney general, whose Justice Department secured the convictions.

Nicholas Smith, Nordean’s attorney, said in an email that his client “is encouraged by the government’s agreement that errors led to the judgment and sentence in his case.”

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Prosecutors also are appealing the 10-year sentence for Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York. Prosecutors sought 20 years in prison for Pezzola, who was tried alongside the four group leaders. Jurors acquitted Pezzola of seditious conspiracy but convicted him of other serious charges.

The Justice Department already is appealing the 18-year prison sentence for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in a separate Jan. 6 case, as well as the sentences of other members of his anti-government militia group.

Prosecutors had requested 25 years in prison for Rhodes. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced him to 18 years.

Also on Monday, a Proud Boys member who joined others from the far-right group in attacking the Capitol pleaded guilty to obstructing the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying the victory by Biden, a Democrat, over Trump, a Republican. William Chrestman, 49, of Olathe, Kansas, also pleaded guilty to threatening to assault a federal officer during the riot at the Capitol.

Kelly is scheduled to sentence Chrestman for his two felony convictions on Jan. 12. Estimated sentencing guidelines for his case recommended a prison term ranging from four years and three months to five years and three months.

Chrestman had an axe handle, a gas mask, a helmet and other tactical gear when he traveled to Washington, D.C., with other Proud Boys members from the Kansas City, Kansas, area. On Jan. 6, he marched to the Capitol grounds with dozens of other Proud Boys leaders, members and associates.

Chrestman and other Proud Boys moved past a toppled metal barricade and joined other rioters in front of another police barrier. He shouted a threat at officers and yelled at others in the crowd to stop police from arresting another rioter, according to prosecutors.

Facing the crowd, Chrestman shouted, “Whose house is this?”

“Our house!” the crowd replied.

“Do you want your house back?” Chrestman asked.

“Yes!” the crowd responded.

“Take it!” Chrestman yelled.

Chrestman also pointed his finger at a line of Capitol police officers, gestured at them with his axe handle and threatened to assault them if they fired “pepper ball” rounds at the crowd of rioters, according to a court filing accompanying his guilty plea.

Chrestman, a U.S. Army veteran, has been jailed since his arrest in February 2021.

More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Approximately 60 of them have been identified as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates.