A Pennsylvania man who was sentenced in secret for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot cooperated with authorities investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and an unrelated case, according to court documents unsealed this week.
The documents provide insight into the unusual secrecy in the case of Samuel Lazar, who had been released from federal custody in September after completing his sentence in his Capitol riot case. His case remained under seal even after his release, so there was no public record of a conviction or sentence.
The records unsealed this week show that Lazar, of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, admitted to spraying a chemical irritant at police officers who were trying to defend the Capitol and to using a bullhorn to encourage other rioters to take officers’ weapons as he yelled, “Let’s get their guns!” He pleaded guilty to assaulting officers using a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to 30 months in prison during a sealed hearing last March.
More than 1,200 people have been charged with Jan. 6-related crimes, and hundreds of them have pleaded guilty. But it is rare for records of a guilty plea and sentence to be sealed, even in cases involving a defendant’s cooperation. Court hearings and records are supposed to be open and available to the public unless there’s a compelling need for secrecy.
The documents show that prosecutors asked the judge last year to sentence Lazar to a prison term below the federal guidelines range, citing Lazar’s “fulsome” cooperation with the government. That included providing “valuable information” to authorities investigating the Jan. 6 attack, prosecutors said in court papers.
An attorney for Lazar declined to comment on Thursday. She told the judge that her client’s behavior on Jan. 6 “was completely out of character for him as he is extremely respectful, law abiding citizen who has deep respect and appreciation for law enforcement.”
“He blindly followed President Trump’s cry to ‘fight like hell to take back the country,'” lawyer Hope Lefeber wrote in a court filing.
The documents were unsealed on Wednesday after a coalition of news outlets, including The Associated Press, moved to publicly release records in his case. The documents, however, were then removed from the court docket after lawyers said they objected to the release of all of the documents and wanted the court to post only blacked-out versions.