January 6 insurrection at US Capitol yields biggest federal investigation in US history

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Jan. 6 yields biggest federal investigation in US history
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About 650 people from all 50 states are currently facing federal charges and on Thursday the two latest accused Capitol attackers from Illinois appeared in court.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The violent insurrection and mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 lasted about four hours. It has produced the most expansive federal law enforcement investigation in US history, now spanning more than nine months.

With millions of social media posts, pictures and videos; nearly 250,000 internet tips; thousands of hours of body camera footage and hundreds of people arrested, investigations remain open and active at the Chicago FBI office, and 54 other FBI field offices across the country. There are only 56 FBI offices total.

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"The investigation and prosecution of the Capitol Breach will be the largest in American history, both in terms of the number of defendants prosecuted and the nature and volume of the evidence," prosecutors stated in a court filing this week.

About 650 people from all 50 states are currently facing federal charges. The two latest accused Capitol attackers from Illinois appeared by video Thursday in front of a DC District Court judge.

As the I-Team first reported, David Wiersma, 66, was arrested last month in suburban Posen. On Thursday, Wiersma entered not guilty pleas to four federal counts: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

ABC7 I-Team Exclusive: 16 people from Illinois now facing charges in the Capitol insurrection. An FBI tip results in two new arrests.

Dawn Frankowski, 53, was arrested last month in Naperville and already entered a not guilty plea on the same charges.

They are the 15th and 16th from Illinois to be charged in connection with the Jan. 6th Capitol takeover.

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Both are now entertaining possible plea deals with the government, according to what was said during Thursday's court hearing.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson scheduled a Dec. 20 hearing for Wiersma and Frankowski to accommodate "ongoing plea discussions." Judge Jackson said that she would accept any guilty pleas "if provided all plea paperwork by Dec. 15th."

Almost 100 defendants arrested after Jan. 6th have pleaded guilty so far, according to the George Washington University Program on Extremism that is keeping a running tally of the cases. That is about 15% of the total arrested. Several of the Illinois defendants have decided to plead guilty rather than face a lengthy trial procedure with an uncertain outcome and the possibility of stiffer punishment than what could be negotiated with prosecutors.

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Former Chicago federal prosecutor Gil Soffer, now ABC7's legal analyst, attributed the interest in Capitol insurrection plea deals to two factors.

"One is there are a lot of low level charges at issue here. The government can offer a very reasonable deal to these defendants," Soffer said. "The other reason is that the evidence, in some cases, is very strong. There's photographic evidence, there's evidence from social media, there are communications, there are witnesses. There's an enormous array of kinds of evidence" he added.

With COVID restrictions having already slowed court schedules across the country, Soffer says hundreds of Capitol insurrection cases have further "gummed up" the docket in DC and made trial-less cases especially attractive.

Less than five percent of federal criminal cases ever result in actual trials. The vast majority result in plea bargains. Nevertheless, prosecutors in Chicago, Washington, DC and across the US are amassing a mountainous pile of evidence collected via more than 6,000 grand jury subpoenas.

According to court records newly filed in the latest Illinois cases, ongoing evidence collection has yielded:

-Thousands of hours of closed circuit video from various public sources

-Thousands of hours of police body worn cameras

-Hundreds of thousands of tips, including 237,000 digital media tips

-Location history data for thousands of devices present inside the Capitol

-A collection of over one million Parler posts, replies and related data

-A collection of over one million Parler videos and images (approximately 20 terabytes of data)

"It really taps into just about every kind of electronic evidence and sources of evidence, and that's really unusual," said Soffer.

There is so much data that prosecutors say they have hired Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, "a litigation support vendor with extensive experience providing complex litigation technology services, to assist in document processing, review and production of materials related to the Capitol Breach."

"What jumps out more than other things is first the volume of tips was enormous, it's over 200,000," Soffer noted. "These are not likely crazy leads. There's probably a lot there that's legitimate and that the FBI and other agencies need to look into."