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Justice Department to seek longest sentence in any Jan. 6 riot case so far

The U.S. Department of Justice will seek the longest prison sentence in any January 6 riot case to date when it argues for more than 24 years in prison for Peter Schwartz of Pennsylvania at sentencing on May 5. If imposed, the sentence would be more than twice as long as any handed down so far in the approximately 450 cases related to the January 6, 2021, assault that have reached sentencing.

In a sentencing memo submitted Monday, federal prosecutors argue Schwartz already had a lengthy criminal history when he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, where he then unleashed a series of violent assaults against groups of officers. He was convicted at trial in December on several charges, including four counts of felony assaulting, resisting, or impeding law enforcement officers using a dangerous weapon.

In a request for a more lenient sentence, his defense argued Schwartz was the victim of political grifters and misinformation. A sentencing memo submitted on his behalf Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C., said, "There remain many grifters out there who remain free to continue propagating the 'great lie' that Trump won the election. Donald Trump being among the most prominent."

In arguing for the lengthy prison sentence, the Justice Department said Schwartz "stole chemical munitions, including pepper spray... left behind by the fleeing officers and used that pepper spray as a weapon to attack those same officers as they desperately tried to escape."

Prosecutors also argue Schwartz assaulted several groups of police officers and "did not back down. He then joined the larger mob inside of the tunnel in attempting to push through the police line and into the Capitol Building."  

"By Schwartz's own admission, he viewed himself as being at 'war' that day, stating in a Facebook post on January 7, 2021, 'What happened yesterday was the opening of a war. I was there and whether people will acknowledge it or not we are now at war,'" the Justice Department's sentencing memo notes.

Schwartz's wife, Shelly Stallings, was also charged for her role in the riot. She pleaded guilty last August and was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this year.

In requesting the 24-year sentence for Schwartz, prosecutors accused him of profiting from his arrest. Prosecutors allege, "As of April 17, 2023, Schwartz has raised $71,541 in an online campaign styled as a 'Patriot Pete Political Prisoner in DC' with an image of Peter Schwartz at the top."

Schwartz's defense recommends a sentence of 54 months in prison. The defense argues, "Mr. Schwartz travelled to Washington D.C. with his wife to listen to former President Trump's speech and walked to the Capitol Building alongside hundreds of other protestors. Mr. Schwartz did not come prepared to incite violence, attack the Capitol Building or any officers that day—none of his actions on January 6th were planned in anticipation of his travels."

The defense also wrote that "Although his conduct is indeed serious, it is significant to note that Mr. Schwartz's actions were not motivated by any desire for personal financial gain or any other type of benefit."

The memo states that Schwartz knew "next to nothing to nothing about the 2020 election and listened to sources of information that were clearly false. Mr. Schwartz has learned valuable life lessons from this incident, and he will never repeat the actions that bring him before the Court in this case."

But as recently as February 2023, Schwartz made jailhouse phone calls to a widely-streamed protest outside the Washington, D.C., jail where he is being held, claiming to have been "entrapped" by the U.S. government and referring to government officials as traitors. 

In previous January 6 cases in which federal prosecutors have sought multi-year or higher-end sentences, federal judges have opted for more moderate sentences, lower in range or below federal sentencing guidelines.  

More than 1,000 defendants have thus far been charged with federal crimes in connection with the U.S. Capitol attack, according to the Justice Department. Hundreds more arrests are expected.  

— Robert Legare contributed reporting.  

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