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DOJ Considers Making Jan. 6 Defendants Pay More for Capitol Riot

The Justice Department is considering increasing the amount of money that people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection will have to agree to pay as part of a plea deal, a prosecutor told a judge Thursday, citing a new cost estimate for the attack which increased by more than $1 million from its original sum.

As of this month, prosecutors had estimated the cost of the damage to the Capitol — expenses covered at the time by taxpayer dollars — at nearly $1.5 million. All but a handful of the more than 250 defendants who have pleaded guilty so far have agreed to the same restitution terms to help pay that amount: $500 for a misdemeanor and $2,000 for a felony case.

Testimony from the Architect of the Capitol and evidence shared by prosecutors detail a wide range of destruction inside and outside the building as thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump descended on the complex. Rioters smashed windows and smashed doors, shutters and furniture. They destroyed the temporary stage and sound systems installed for the opening festivities and sprayed paint on stone paths and corridors of the Capitol. Two historic lanterns were pulled from the ground. Police officers and people they were trying to arrest fired chemical sprays at each other, damaging statues and paintings.

Earlier this month, the government shared in court documents that the estimated cost had increased, now totaling $2,734,782 as of March. The original Architect of the Capitol estimate of $1.49 million, which the agency provided in May 2021, had been reduced to $1,234,354; Court documents did not include an explanation for the change, and an agency spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But there were new numbers from other congressional offices affected by the attack. The Administrative Director of the Chamber was seeking $338,294. The Secretary of the Senate and the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate were seeking $32,075 and $79,490, respectively.

The largest increase in the amount of money it had cost the government on January 6 came from the US Capitol Police, who put their latest outlay at $1,160,569. That number included $1,045,129 in pay for officers and other employees who were injured on the job that day. The total revised cost estimate was first reported by Politician.

The figures cited by prosecutors in the federal criminal cases are still well below the $30 million in costs outlined by the Architect of the Capitol shortly after the attack. In testimony Before the House Appropriations Committee in February 2021, J. Brett Blanton, the Capitol’s architect, explained that his office’s expenses in the immediate aftermath included repairs, historic preservation, contracts for perimeter security and support for the National Guard.

At a sentencing hearing Thursday for defendant Richard Watrous, a New York man who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor parading and rallying on Capitol Hill, US District Judge Beryl Howell asked about the latest cost figures. Assistant US Attorney Douglas Collyer had put the new numbers in the government sentencing report for Watrous, but said he was not changing the terms of the plea agreement, which Watrous signed in January, and included $500 in restitution.

Howell asked Collyer if the government would change the $500 baseline in the future. Collyer confirmed that he was under review and that it was possible officials could move him. Howell, who had researched in the past whether the government’s cost estimate was too low, approved of that response. The judge said she thought the American people would be “happy” to know that the people who participated in the attack, and not the taxpayers, were paying more of the bill.

Collyer did not provide details about the timing of the review process or who would be responsible for deciding whether to change the restitution amounts. A spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, which is handling the prosecution, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

The defendants who have pleaded guilty to date have agreed to pay more than $170,000 in restitution under their agreements with the government, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of court records. In addition to restitution, the judges ordered the defendants to pay more than $110,000 in fines as part of their sentences.

Howell asked Collyer during Thursday’s hearing how much money the defendants had paid on Jan. 6 to the government after they were sentenced. He said that he didn’t know. The spokesman for the US attorney’s office also did not immediately respond to a request for payment information. He was also unable to immediately reach a representative from the DC federal district court’s probation office.

Howell sentenced Watrous to 36 months of probation, during which time he will have to spend 14 days in jail and 60 days on house arrest. In addition to the $500 restitution payment he agreed to as part of his plea deal, Howell imposed a $2,500 fine, a penalty that went beyond what the government recommended.

Watrous spent less than 10 minutes inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and did not destroy property or engage in violence, but Howell noted that unlike many defendants, he entered twice. He acknowledged staying in the building after seeing police deploy explosives and tear gas on the crowd, although he insisted that he walk away and go to a quieter area. When Watrous told the judge that he was siding with the police, she asked him, “Do you understand that you were a member of that mob?” Watrous responded that, “looking back,” she did.

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