In the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, incursion of the U.S. Capitol, hundreds of Americans have been tried, convicted and sentenced for their actions that day.
However, one name stands out due to the secrecy surrounding his case — Samuel Lazar.
The Associated Press reported Friday that Lazar’s legal journey has been cloaked in mystery, with his conviction and sentencing kept tightly sealed even after his release from prison.
Lazar, a 37-year-old resident of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, was arrested in July 2021 on allegations of participating in the Capitol incursion.
He’s one of over 1,100 defendants who have faced federal charges related to Jan. 6.
Videos captured Lazar approaching police lines and deploying an “orange chemical irritant,” according to a court filing from an FBI agent.
The document said he wore tactical gear and protective goggles while deploying the chemical spray at a police barricade.
Unusually, there is no public record available pertaining to Lazar’s conviction or sentence within his court docket, according to the AP.
Nevertheless, the Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Lazar was released from federal custody recently, having completed a sentence for assaulting or resisting a federal officer, the report said.
Lazar received a 30-month prison sentence in Washington’s federal court on March 17, but no public record of such a hearing exists.
He had been behind bars since July 2021.
The mystery surrounding Lazar’s case has persisted for several months, yet the specifics of his conviction and sentencing remained undisclosed until now.
According to the AP, the Justice Department opted not to offer any explanation for the ongoing secrecy of the case, and legal representatives for Lazar also refrained from responding to numerous requests for comment.
The situation is raising concerns about the transparency of the vast Jan. 6 probe — the most substantial in the history of the Justice Department.
Typically, court hearings and records, including sentencing hearings and plea agreements, are open to the public and the press unless there are compelling reasons for secrecy.
In July, Lazar was transferred from FCI Fort Dix, a federal detention center in New Jersey, to “community confinement” under the Bureau of Prisons’ supervision, the AP reported. This transition implied that he was either placed under home confinement or moved to a halfway house.
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During that time, a social media post shared by Lazar’s sister depicted him waving an American flag with the caption: “Hallelujah Praise God, free at last… #walkingfree.”
Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, found the case highly unusual, telling the AP he couldn’t remember any similar instance from his time at the Justice Department.
Eliason suggested there might be a “security concern” regarding Lazar or that he might be “cooperating” with authorities in a manner that necessitates secrecy.
An attorney for one Jan. 6 defendant said at least 40 undercover informants were at the Capitol engaging in “surveillance work” that day, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported in April.
However, while many of the Jan. 6 defendants have cooperation agreements with the government, their cases have not been resolved in such a clandestine fashion, according to the AP. Typically, defendants who cooperate with prosecutors have their sentencing hearings postponed until their cooperation concludes.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather in Washington ordered Lazar’s detention pending trial, citing concerns about public safety. Meriweather noted that Lazar had been photographed holding firearms on a public street during an August 2020 rally.
In January 2022, Lazar faced a new indictment containing five counts, including felony offenses. He pleaded not guilty to these charges the following month. By March 2022, prosecutors and Lazar’s attorney requested additional time “to negotiate a disposition of the matter short of trial,” according to the AP.
In June 2022, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, canceled a status conference for Lazar’s case because he couldn’t attend via video from jail, the report said. This stands as the latest publicly known court filing related to the case.
In April this year, a group of news organizations, including the AP, petitioned the judge to open up any documents connected to Lazar’s change of plea or sentencing. They pointed to a March NBC News story that mentioned an anonymous source stating Lazar was set for a secret sentencing.
After Lazar’s clandestine sentencing, his brother told LNP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that their mother remained “even more confused,” adding that “she has no idea if and when he’s coming home, assuming he was actually given a sentence today.”
Jackson rejected the petition in May, citing arguments from both the prosecutor and the defense attorney who opposed the release of records.
However, she recognized the possibility that “there may be circumstances where a need for secrecy can be outweighed by competing significant interests.”
The judge invited the media coalition to resubmit the request and established a deadline of Sept. 29 for its legal representatives to file “an updated status report setting forth their position or positions on this matter.”
“There are no ‘undocketed’ records in this or any other case pending before this Court, and while the movant complains that the parties lacked the required leave to file portions of their opposition to this motion under seal, that is not correct; nothing has been sealed in this case without leave of court,” Jackson said.
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