A New York man who took a selfie while smoking marijuana in Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) office during the Capitol riot pleaded guilty Wednesday to one misdemeanor charge – avoiding a much more serious felony charge of obstructing the joint session of Congress.
James Bonet appeared before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to enter his guilty plea to one misdemeanor count of entering and remaining in a restricted building. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 1 year in prison, and a recommended sentencing range of 0-6 months behind bars.
Bonet joined in a mob of thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump on January 6 that stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in order to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden. During the riot, Bonet posted a number of photos from outside and inside the building, including one captioned, “Right in the doorsteps this is our house we will take it back.”
In another post, Bonet uploaded a selfie of him holding a joint to his lips inside Merkley’s office, with the caption, “Smoking at the capital building.”
Bonet was arrested in late January after the FBI received a tip from his coworkers about his participation in the riot. According to charging documents, the coworkers told investigators Bonet was an avid conspiracy theorist and would frequently discuss them at work, “including the conspiracy theory that the 2020 Presidential Election was ‘stolen.’”
In June, a federal grand jury indicted Bonet on six counts, including one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
On Wednesday, however, prosecutors agreed to drop the felony charge and the other misdemeanor counts against Bonet in exchange for his plea of guilty to one Class “A” misdemeanor. Prosecutors made a similar move a day earlier for Brandon Straka, a “Stop the Steal” speaker who pleaded guilty Tuesday to one Class “B” misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, despite having initially been charged with a felony count of impeding law enforcement during civil disorder.
In the case of Straka – a right-wing activist who amassed more than 500,000 followers on Twitter through his pro-Trump #WalkAway campaign urging Democrats to leave the party – his plea deal included an agreement to cooperate with ongoing investigations against other riot suspects and to give law enforcement access to his social media accounts. It was unclear what, if any, cooperation was expected from Bonet.
Bonet, who has a previous conviction for marijuana possession, was never charged for having marijuana in the Capitol. The federal penalty if convicted of possession of any amount of marijuana is a maximum of 1 year in prison – the same as the restricted building charge Bonet pleaded to. A second offense carries a minimum sentence of 15 days in jail and a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison.
Bonet will be back before Sullivan in February for his sentencing. Sullivan has previously pressed the Justice Department on Capitol riot cases – notably, asking why a Pennsylvania woman who said she was looking for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to shoot her “in the friggin’ brain” wasn’t charged for it. In February, Sullivan said, attorneys for both the DOJ and Bonet should be prepared to convince him probation alone would act as a sufficient deterrent for future assaults on the Capitol.
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