WASHINGTON — US District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Capitol rioter Frank Scavo — a former school board official from Pennsylvania who organized buses to Washington, DC, on Jan. 6 and joined the mob that went into the Capitol — to 60 days in jail, blowing past the prosecutor’s recommendation of two weeks.
Lamberth didn’t offer a lengthy explanation for his decision, as some judges have done in these cases, pausing only for a few seconds after the lawyers finished arguing before announcing the sentence. But he said earlier in the hearing that even people like Scavo who weren’t charged with violence were responsible for making up the mob that brought the government to a “screeching halt.” He expressed dismay that Scavo’s lawyers filed a memo appearing to “quibble” with their client’s responsibility for illegally entering the Capitol.
Lamberth also ordered Scavo to pay a $5,000 fine, the maximum allowed by law for the misdemeanor crime that Scavo pleaded guilty to — and an additional punishment the government hadn’t asked for. The judge’s final comment to Scavo underscored that he wasn’t moved by the defense’s request for leniency.
“From the point the jig was up, you’ve done everything you could. Good luck to you,” Lamberth said.
Lamberth was the first judge to hand down a sentence in the Capitol cases earlier this year, ordering Anna Morgan-Lloyd of Indiana to serve probation after she delivered a tearful statement to the court expressing regret for her role in the riot. The next day, Morgan-Lloyd appeared on Fox News and made comments that appeared to downplay the violence on Jan. 6; her lawyer has claimed her client got “played” by host Laura Ingraham.
Lamberth has made clear since then that he felt burned by what happened with Morgan-Lloyd, and that other defendants asking for mercy would be met with a skeptical eye. In a written opinion in September in the case of rioter Jacob Chansley, who at the time had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing, Lamberth wrote that he hoped Chansley’s “change of heart is sincere.”
The judge added in a footnote: “The Court’s hopes have been recently dashed when, a day after sentencing, another January 6 defendant made statements in an interview that directly conflicted with the contrite statements she made to the undersigned.”
Lamberth last week sentenced Chansley to 41 months in prison, which was less than the 51 months incarceration that the government argued for, but far more than the period of time-served (roughly 10 months) that Chansley wanted; he’d pleaded guilty to one felony count for obstructing Congress. Earlier this month, Lamberth rebuffed another Capitol rioter’s request for a lighter sentence, ordering Scott Fairlamb to spend 41 months in prison after the former mixed martial arts fighter from New Jersey pleaded guilty to punching a police officer in the head.
Lamberth isn’t the first judge to hand down a stiffer sentence than what the government requested in a Jan. 6 prosecution. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan first did that in October, sentencing Matthew Mazzocco to 45 days in jail instead of the period of home detention recommended by the prosecutor.
“There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” Chutkan said at the time.
Scavo pleaded guilty in September to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol, the same low-level misdemeanor featured in most of the more than 130 plea deals entered in the riot prosecutions so far, including Morgan-Lloyd’s case. Scavo helped charter buses that brought more than 200 Trump supporters from northeast Pennsylvania to Washington, according to the government, and had spent more than a decade as an elected school board member and ran twice for the state legislature.
The prosecutor and Scavo’s lawyers noted his history of public service and lack of previous criminal record as factors that weighed in his favor, but Assistant US Attorney Seth Meinero also argued to Lamberth on Monday that Scavo “should have known better.” Meinero played videos that show Scavo was standing close to a chaotic mob that overwhelmed a “thin line” of US Capitol Police officers trying to guard an entrance to the Capitol, filmed what was happening, and then entered once the doors were breached. At one point he turns his camera on himself and says, “Here we go.”
Throughout the afternoon of Jan. 6, Scavo posted comments on Facebook expressing support for the riot, including “No certification Today!!!”, and recorded video on his phone where he could be heard saying, “Your own personal tour of the freaking Capitol. We fucking took it back. Took it back.”
Scavo read a statement to the judge claiming that he’d only gone up the stairs to the Capitol to take pictures of the scene, and didn’t feel like he could move because people were pushing around him. He said the mob “surrounded me” and that when the crowd “surged” he entered the building. He called Jan. 6 a “dark day in our history” and said that he regretted his involvement.
In an interview published the day after the riot with a local TV station, he claimed he hadn’t gone inside the Capitol. One of his lawyers said on Monday that he’d been “scared” and that he’d fully cooperated with the FBI once he learned he was under investigation. After participating in voluntary interviews with the FBI in January but before he was charged and arrested in March, Scavo on social media promoted a cartoon published in a local newspaper that depicted him driving a bus called the “Sedition express” and posted comments that made light of the allegations.
Scavo was arrested on March 25 and allowed to go home while his case was pending.