UNITED STATES NEWS

A Jan. 6 rioter was convicted and sentenced in secret. No one will say why

Sep 15, 2023, 12:44 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of rioters have been charged, convicted and sentenced for joining the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Unlike their cases, Samuel Lazar’s appears to have been resolved in secret — kept under seal with no explanation, even after his release from prison.

Lazar, 37, of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, was arrested in July 2021 on charges that he came to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, dressed in tactical gear and protective goggles, and used chemical spray on officers who were desperately trying to beat back the angry Donald Trump supporters.

There is no public record of a conviction or a sentence in Lazar’s court docket.

But the Bureau of Prisons told The Associated Press that the man was released from federal custody this week after completing a sentence for assaulting or resisting a federal officer. Lazar was sentenced in Washington’s federal court on March 17 to 30 months in prison, according to the Bureau of Prisons, but there’s no public record of such a hearing. He had been jailed since July 2021.

Questions about Lazar’s case have been swirling for months, but the details of his conviction and sentence have not been previously reported.

The Justice Department has refused to say why the case remains under wraps, and attorneys for Lazar did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press. The judge overseeing Lazar’s case in May rejected a request from media outlets — including the AP — to release any sealed records that may exist.

The case is raising concerns about transparency in the massive Jan. 6 investigation — the largest in Justice Department history. Court hearings and records — including sentencing hearings and plea agreements — are supposed to be open and available to the public and the press unless there’s a compelling need for secrecy.

Lazar was transferred in July from FCI Fort Dix — a federal lockup in New Jersey — to “community confinement” overseen by the Bureau of Prisons, which means he was either in home confinement or a halfway house, according to a prisons system spokesperson.

A social media post from Lazar’s sister that month shows Lazar standing outside waving an American flag with the caption: “Hallelujah Praise God free at last … #walkingfree.”

Secret plea hearings are not unheard of, though the records are often unsealed ahead of sentencing.

In an unrelated example, the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who triggered the Russia influence investigation, was entered under seal and kept out of view for weeks — until special counsel Robert Mueller disclosed that Papadopoulos had admitted making false statements to the FBI. Subsequent proceedings, including his sentencing hearing, were matters of public record.

George Washington University criminal law professor Randall Eliason, who spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, said he couldn’t remember any case during his Justice Department tenure in which a sentencing hearing and sentence were placed under seal. Eliason said it’s possible that “either there’s some kind of security concern about him personally, or maybe more likely that he’s cooperating in some respect that they don’t want the people he’s cooperating against to know about.”

But many Jan. 6 defendants have cooperation deals with the government, and their cases haven’t been resolved in secret. Defendants who agree to cooperate with prosecutors often get their sentencing hearings delayed until they finish cooperating.

“The fact that he also got sentenced, went to prison and is already out, that whole situation is just unusual,” Eliason said.

Lazar is among more than 1,100 defendants charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack. Outside the Capitol that day, Lazar was carrying a bullhorn and wearing ski googles, a tactical vest with a radio attached and camouflage-style face paint.

Videos captured Lazar approaching police lines outside the Capitol and discharging an orange chemical irritant toward officers, an FBI agent said in a court filing. An officer’s body camera showed Lazar retreat down steps after police deployed a chemical at him. Lazar then turned and sprayed two officers, according to the agent.

Lazar shouted profane insults at police through the bullhorn, calling them tyrants and yelling, “Let’s get their guns!” Another video captured Lazar saying, “There’s a time for peace and there’s a time for war.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather in Washington, D.C, ordered Lazar detained pending trial, ruling that he posed a threat to public safety. The magistrate noted that Lazar also had been photographed posing with firearms on a public street during an August 2020 rally.

In January 2022, a new indictment charged Lazar with five counts, including felony offenses. He pleaded not guilty to the charges the following month. In March 2022, prosecutors and Lazar’s attorney asked for more time “to negotiate a disposition of the matter short of trial.”

In June 2022, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson canceled a status conference for Lazar’s case because he wasn’t available to appear by video from jail. That’s the last publicly available court filing to address the status of the case.

In April of this year, attorneys for a coalition of news outlets — including the AP — asked the judge to unseal any records related to a change of plea or sentencing hearing for Lazar, noting a March NBC News story — citing an anonymous source — that said Lazar was scheduled to be sentenced in a secret hearing.

“The public docket provides no explanation as to why, despite the strong presumption of transparency in this Circuit, these judicial records are not available to the public,” the coalition lawyers wrote.

After Lazar’s secret sentencing, his brother told Lancaster Online — which first reported his release from prison in July —- that their mother was “even more confused,” adding “she has no idea if and when he’s coming home, assuming he was actually given a sentence today.”

In May, Judge Jackson denied the news outlets’ request after a prosecutor and defense attorney argued against releasing the records, though she said the case law cited by the press coalition “plainly recognizes that there may be circumstances where a need for secrecy can be outweighed by competing significant interests.”

Jackson said there were no “undocketed” records in this or any other case pending before her, adding that “nothing has been sealed in this case without leave of court.” But the judge said the news outlets could renew their request, setting a Sept. 29 deadline for its lawyers to file “an updated status report setting forth their position or positions on this matter.”

___

Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker contributed from Washington.

United States News

FILE - Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro is sworn in during a plea deal hearing, Oct. 20, 2023, at the Fulton...

Associated Press

Takeaways from the Wisconsin 2020 fake electors lawsuit settlement

More than 1,400 pages of emails, text messages and other documents released Monday reveal details of a strategy by Republican operatives tied to then-President Donald Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Wisconsin. The documents — settling a civil lawsuit filed against two attorneys and 10 Wisconsin Republicans who posed as fake electors — […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

A judge orders prison for a Michigan man who made threats against Jewish people

A 20-year-old Michigan man who admitted using social media to make violent threats against Jewish people was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in prison, far short of what prosecutors had recommended. A sentence exceeding a year makes someone eligible for good conduct credits and a shorter stay in federal custody. Seann Pietila, […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Falls from US-Mexico border wall in San Diego hospitalize 10 in a day

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Eleven people were hurt over the weekend while trying to climb over a wall that separates Mexico and the United States and falling on the San Diego side, the latest such injuries since the wall was heightened to deter illegal crossings. Ten people ranging in age from 18 to mid-40s were […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Venus flytrap poachers face arrest warrants in taking of hundreds of rare plant

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C. (AP) — Authorities in North Carolina have obtained arrest warrants for two people in a poaching case involving hundreds of Venus flytraps, which grow naturally in the eastern part of the state. Officers with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission obtained arrest warrants for two people accused of stealing nearly 600 […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

New Hampshire man who triggered Amber Alert held without bail in death of his children’s mother

A New Hampshire man accused of abducting his children after killing their mother was ordered held without bail Monday. Dustin Mark Duren, 37, was charged with second-degree murder Friday in the death of Caitlyn Naffziger, 31. Police had issued an Amber Alert after finding Naffziger dead in an apartment in Berlin, and Duren was arrested […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

The owners of a Christian boarding school in Missouri are jailed and charged with kidnapping crimes

The husband and wife owners of a Missouri boarding school for boys have been jailed and charged with felony crimes after a lengthy investigation by a county sheriff. Wayne County Sheriff Dean Finch said in a news release that Larry Musgraves Jr., 57, was arrested Friday evening on the ABM Ministries campus in Piedmont, a […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

A Jan. 6 rioter was convicted and sentenced in secret. No one will say why