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Plea deal expected for Sacramento-area defendant in Jan. 6 insurrection at U.S. Capitol

Sacramento Bee 1/27/2023 Sam Stanton, The Sacramento Bee

An apparent plea deal has been negotiated with one of the four Sacramento-area defendants in the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot and may be finalized in court in Washington, D.C., next month.

Sacramento Republican activist Jorge Aaron Riley is expected to plead guilty to a single count of obstructing an official proceeding at a hearing in February, his attorney, Tim Zindel, confirmed Thursday following a brief court hearing held via Zoom.

Riley faces a five-count indictment that also charges him with disorderly conduct, entering a restricted area and demonstrating in a Capitol building, charges that stem from his actions during the insurrection when he allegedly entered then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Zindel declined to provide details of any agreement with federal prosecutors, and Thursday’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta focused primarily on when Riley might be able to get to Washington, D.C., for a hearing next month and whether he could afford the airfare.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards noted during the hearing that the chief judge in Washington has said defendants who were able to pay to travel to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, should be able to pay for travel back for court proceedings, but no agreement was made Thursday on a date for the next hearing.

Zindel said during the session he would check airfare prices for Riley to fly east with an eye toward a hearing in February.

Zindel also noted afterward that all Jan. 6 defendants who have proceeded to trial to date have been convicted.

Court filings say the FBI has ample evidence of Riley’s participation in events at the Capitol that day, when protesters attempted to halt certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over then-President Donald Trump.

Riley’s alleged participation includes selfie photos from the siege, social media posts and an online video in which he described breaking into the Capitol.

“From January 6 through at least January 8, 2021, Riley posted over 150 messages, photographs and videos on his public Facebook account, detailing his actions in Washington, D.C., on January 6,” an FBI “statement of facts” says. “In one message on the morning of January 6, Riley posted, in part, ‘I’m here to see what my President called me to DC for. Hello from Sacramento!!!’”

At one point, he posted, “Hey We’re storming the Capitol…. What are you doing?” court records say.

And in the video posted on Reddit, in an interview apparently conducted after he left the building, the FBI says he describes in detail how he got into the Capitol.

“In relevant part, Riley states, ‘We breached over there I think. We broke windows, we went into the door, we pushed our way in, and then we just kept going further and further. ... We went into, there was like a corridor building.’

“Riley continued, ‘We pushed our way to Nancy Pelosi’s office ... and then we were sitting in there yelling ‘f--- you, Nancy Pelosi.’ At this point, Riley flashes both of his middle fingers to the screen as if to reenact what he had done while yelling in the Capitol.”

Riley had been corresponding secretary of the California Republican Assembly and president of its Sacramento chapter until he was asked to resign when the video surfaced.

The fact that Riley was charged apparently did not deter some fellow Republicans from lauding his service to the party. Three months after the siege on the Capitol, he was given a trophy in Sacramento and “honored by the Sacramento Republican Assembly (SRA) for serving 11 years on the executive board including being elected to 6 terms as president!” according to a Facebook post at the time.

Riley is one of four Sacramento-area residents charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot. Two others — Valerie Elaine Ehrke of Arbuckle and Tommy Frederick Allan of Rocklin — entered guilty pleas. Ehrke was given probation; Allan was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

A fourth, Sean Michael McHugh of Auburn, is the only one of the four who remains in custody and has rejected a plea bargain. His lawyer has asked a judge to dismiss charges against McHugh and, alternately, to move any trial to Sacramento from Washington. Those motions are pending.

©2023 The Sacramento Bee. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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