Florida Rabbi Sentenced to Home Confinement for Joining Capitol Riot

Michael Stepakoff founded Temple New Jerusalem, a Messianic synagogue in Palm Harbor, Florida, and has been its senior rabbi for the past 20 years

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A former criminal defense attorney who founded a Messianic synagogue in Florida was sentenced Thursday to two months of home confinement for joining the mob that stormed the Capitol last year.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras also sentenced Michael Stepakoff, 56, to one year of probation and ordered him to perform 60 hours of community service. Federal prosecutors had recommended 14 days imprisonment for Stepakoff.

Stepakoff entered and exited the Capitol through the same door, spending roughly five minutes in the building during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Later that day, he posted a message on social media that said he felt “privileged to have participated in an historic demonstration against one of the greatest frauds in history.”

Contreras said Stepakoff has tried to portray himself as a “Mr. Magoo-like character that stumbled into and through the Capitol, oblivious to the mayhem around him."

“The government has presented persuasive evidence indicating that this characterization is highly suspect,” the judge added. “The defendant is a highly educated individual who the court finds is highly unlikely to be so oblivious.”

Stepakoff said the violence and chaos that erupted at the Capitol “totally contradicted and undermined the whole point of the gathering.”

“I had no part in any of that, nor did I witness it,” he said. “I do feel that I failed to properly assess and understand the situation.”

Stepakoff pleaded guilty in September to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor publishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment.

Stepakoff's lawyer, Marina Medvin, argued that a $50 fine would be an appropriate sentence for him.

Stepakoff founded Temple New Jerusalem, a Messianic synagogue in Palm Harbor, Florida, and has been its senior rabbi for the past 20 years. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law but believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The major denominations of Judaism reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism.

Stepakoff was an attorney but stopped practicing law in 2006. He told a court official that he had agreed to a six-month suspension of his law license stemming from a complaint from a former client, according to prosecutors.

More than 720 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 190 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, and more than 80 of them have been sentenced.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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