These New Yorkers are accused of taking part in the Capitol riot
By Sarah Maslin Nir
As the FBI intensified its nationwide manhunt for those who broke into the U.S. Capitol last week, arrests of some of the more than 170 suspects began to ramp up. As rioters departed Washington, D.C., and fanned out to their homes across the country, agents were sifting through over 100,000 digital tips and bringing federal charges against more than 70 people to date.
Many face charges including unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, but more grievous charges are expected for some, according to law enforcement officials — including sedition.
A number of those who law enforcement say participated in the riot came from President Donald Trump’s home state of New York.
Here’s who the New Yorkers are:
The son of a Brooklyn judge
Wearing a police vest and draped in animal pelts, Aaron Mostofsky, 34, cut a distinct figure when he was interviewed inside the Capitol while clutching a riot shield.
“We were cheated,” he said to a reporter for The New York Post, repeating Trump’s debunked claim of widespread election fraud. “I don’t think 75 million people voted for Trump — I think it was close to 85 million.”
On Tuesday, Mostofsky, the son of Judge Steven Mostofsky of Kings County Supreme Court, who also goes by Shlomo, was arrested at his brother’s house in Brooklyn on charges that include stealing government property, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
What appear to be fur pelts were taken out of Mostofsky’s own house by FBI agents, in a video of the arrest posted on Twitter.
Both Mostofsky and his father are registered as Democrats, according to election records. At a court hearing Tuesday, Jeffrey T. Schwartz, a lawyer for Mostofsky, said he was “not part of the mob.”
“He was not rampaging,” Schwartz said in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. “He understands how the whole thing in Washington got totally out of hand.”
An MTA employee
William Pepe, a city transit employee from Beacon, New York, was arrested by FBI agents in the parking lot of a bank in White Plains, New York, on Tuesday and is facing charges of unlawful entry and disorderly conduct for his breaching of the Capitol, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges against Pepe had not been made public.
Pepe, 31, called in sick to work to travel to Washington last Wednesday. He was suspended without pay last week from his job as a Metro-North Railroad laborer at its Brewster rail yard.
A federal magistrate judge, Judith C. McCarthy, released Pepe on a $10,000 bond Wednesday, ordering that he abide by a nighttime curfew, wear a GPS monitoring device, and surrender his shotgun and hunting knife to the authorities. Pepe was “restricted from traveling to the District of Columbia for any purpose whatsoever,” except for any required in-person court hearing, the judge said.
The MTA is cooperating with federal law enforcement agencies. On Tuesday the agency also lodged internal disciplinary charges against Pepe, which, following an investigation, may result in termination from his job, for which he makes around $73,000 a year.
An upstate town official
Sharon Pineo, 70, of Round Lake, New York, was photographed being detained by officers on the steps of the Capitol, apparently having made it past barricades surrounding the building. Pineo organized a charter bus to the protest, according to The Albany Times Union.
A member of the town of Malta’s zoning board of appeals, Pineo, a Republican, has since resigned her position, following calls for her removal, according to The Daily Gazette, which obtained a copy of her resignation letter.
Though she was photographed in a green windbreaker, slumped as multiple officers appear to grapple with her, Pineo denied involvement beyond protesting, she said in a statement submitted to a local radio station, The Gazette reported.
“I would like the public to know that I did not enter the building nor did I commit any violence,” she said in the statement, adding she merely “exercised on behalf of the people the freedom of speech.”
She has not been charged with a crime.
A Buffalo-area anti-mask activist
Pete Harding of Cheektowaga, New York, spent about 40 minutes inside the Capitol, according to an interview he gave to The Buffalo News. Harding, an anti-mask activist who has frequently spoken out against coronavirus lockdown measures, was arrested this summer for refusing to wear a mask in a Buffalo liquor store.
In the interview with The News, Harding said he was in the Capitol to document what transpired. “I did nothing wrong,” he said, adding that he had contacted the FBI after video surfaced of him inside the building, and many called for his arrest on social media.
Harding also was filmed participating in a group that took photographic equipment from journalists, threw it in a pile and tried to set it on fire.
Harding has not been charged with a crime.
A Staten Island firebrand
Well known for protests in his home borough of Staten Island and for loudly heckling Mayor Bill de Blasio on the Staten Island Ferry, Gary Phaneuf was arrested in Washington on Jan. 7 following his attendance at the riot violating the curfew imposed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, according to Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department.
Phaneuf’s politics appear to have shifted over time: In 2011, Phaneuf was profiled in The New Yorker while participating in Occupy Wall Street protests and camped out in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. At the time, he expressed worry about the risk that right-wing speech posed to President Barack Obama. “I’m scared about what I’m hearing from the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh; they’re creating an environment where he could be shot,” he said.
In 2016, Phaneuf protested the retirement of a New York City police commissioner, citing the death of Eric Garner, a Black man who was placed in a chokehold by the police on Staten Island, according to Pavement Pieces, a local news site out of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
This week, Phaneuf referred to Ashli Babbitt, the military veteran who was killed by Capitol Police when she tried to force her way into the U.S. Senate speaker’s lobby as “a martyr,” according to an interview with a D.C. radio station, WTOP News. “We have a bloody red shirt to wave around,” he told the station.
A Queens man who was not at the Capitol
In the hours before the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, Eduard Florea posted threatening messages on the social networking website Parler, prosecutors say, and wrote that he wanted to lead a “caravan” of armed Trump supporters to Washington.
The time for peace and civility was over, Florea wrote, according to court records. In a discussion on the site about the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who was recently elected to the Senate in Georgia, Florea, 40, wrote, “Dead men can’t pass laws,” with an obscenity added for emphasis, the document said.
When investigators searched Florea’s home in Middle Village, Queens, they found thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to a criminal complaint. He told the FBI he had applied to join the Proud Boys, a far-right group, but was not yet an official member.
Florea, who was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in 2014, was arrested Tuesday and charged with illegally possessing ammunition.
At a remote bail hearing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Florea’s lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, argued that he should be released from custody, saying that he had not been charged with making any online threats. She said the FBI had concluded that her client, despite his online bravado, had not traveled to Washington and did not even have a car.
Florea was denied bail.