By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, AP
WASHINGTON — A member of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group who was part of a security detail for former President Donald Trump 's longtime adviser Roger Stone before storming the U.S. Capitol was sentenced on Thursday to more than four years in prison.
Roberto Minuta, who was seen on video guarding Stone hours before the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, was among six Oath Keeper members convicted by jurors of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a violent plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to President Joe Biden after the 2020 election.
Minuta is the third Oath Keeper to receive his punishment for seditious conspiracy — the most serious charge the Justice Department has brought in the Capitol attack.
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced last week to 18 years behind bars — the longest sentence that has been handed down so far in hundreds of Capitol riot cases. Kelly Meggs, who led the group's Florida chapter, was sentenced to 12 years.
Minuta told U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta that he is ashamed of his actions, disavows the Oath Keepers and was “repulsed” by the lack of remorse Rhodes showed at his own sentencing.
“My emotions got the best of me, and I’m deeply apologetic, your honor,” he told Mehta. “I was misled and naïve."
Before handing down the sentence of four years and six months, the judge told Minuta that the law doesn’t permit anybody to “gather up arms to battle your government.”
“This is not about politics. This is not about your beliefs. It’s about your conduct,” Mehta said.
Minuta, who owned a New York tattoo shop, was in communication on Jan. 6 with Rhodes, who described Minuta in a message as one of his "most trusted men,” according to federal prosecutors. Minuta purchased 5,500 rounds of ammunition as Jan. 6 approached, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said he hasn't shown true remorse, noting that Minuta took to social media after his arrest to slam the investigation as politically motivated and referred to Jan. 6 defendants as “POLITICAL PRISONERS." A fundraiser page that was linked to his Twitter page said the government “has been weaponized to destroy dissidents.”
“That’s his worldview,” Justice Department prosecutor Troy Edwards said. “Mr. Minuta is a danger to himself and to his republic because of his worldview.”
Lawyers for the Oath Keepers say there was never any plot to storm the Capitol or stop the transfer of power.
Minuta's attorney, William Shipley, said his client came to Washington to serve in the Oath Keepers' personal security detail for Stone and “had no intention or plan to engage in any other activity.”
Shipley said Minuta's fears of government “tyranny” were not sparked by the baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, but grew out of his tattoo shop being shut down by lockdown measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Shipley said Minuta’s actions on Jan. 6 were “regrettable” and “idiotic.”
“But worthy of a multi-year prison sentence? I don’t think so,” he added.
Minuta was among several people in Oath Keepers gear seen flanking Stone on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6.
Stone, an informal Trump adviser, has denied having any knowledge of or involvement in anything illegal on Jan. 6.
The judge agreed with the Justice Department that Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers’ actions could be punished as “terrorism,” increasing the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. But the judge has consistently issued sentences shorter than those prosecutors have sought for Oath Keeper members. The Justice Department had sought 17 years for Minuta and 25 years for Rhodes.
Edward Vallejo, who was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, is expected to be sentenced later Thursday. Prosecutors said he was a leader of a “Quick Reaction Force” that stashed guns at a Virginia hotel and was prepared to bring them to Washington if called. The weapons were never deployed.
A day after the riot, Vallejo traveled into Washington to “conduct surveillance” and “probe the defense line” of police and National Guard troopers protecting the Capitol, according to prosecutors. He later tried to meet up with Rhodes in Texas.
Vallejo, a U.S. Army veteran, is a longtime resident of the Phoenix area. Defense attorney Matthew Peed said Vallejo wasn’t part of any Oath Keepers calls or discussions before he arrived in the Washington area a day before the riot. In court papers, his attorney called prosecutors' argument that the Oath Keepers should be sentenced as terrorists “borderline offensive.”
“The tragedy of January 6 is that hundreds of lifelong law-abiding people like Edward Vallejo were lied to by the sitting President and told that the certification was an orchestrated assault on our democracy,” the defense attorney wrote wrote.
Last Friday, the judge handed down punishments for two other Oath Keepers who were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges. Mehta sentenced Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, to eight years and six months behind bars and sentenced Kenneth Harrelson, of Titusville, Florida, to four years in prison.
The Oath Keepers sentencings come weeks after leaders of another far-right group — the Proud Boys — were also convicted in the Jan. 6 attack. Former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other group leaders were found guilty in May of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to keep Trump in the White House. They're scheduled to be sentenced in August.
Richer reported from Boston.
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