Washington DC: For his involvement in the protest at the US Capitol on January 6, Michael Stepakoff was charged with 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1) Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building; 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(2) Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building; 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(D) Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; and 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(G) Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building.

All four charges were federal misdemeanors, prosecuted in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Stepakoff pleaded guilty to the lowest-level charge, Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building, a class B misdemeanor petty offense. All other charges were dismissed.

Judge Contreras sentenced him to 12 months of probation (with the conditions of remaining at his home during non-working hours for a period of two months and 60 hours of community service), a fine of $742, and restitution in the amount of $500 (the standard restitution amount ordered in all J6 participant cases).

 

Defending
Michael
Stepakoff

Michael Stepakoff was represented by conservative criminal defense attorney Marina Medvin.

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When Michael Stepakoff walked up to the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters were protesting in front. The people were loud, but they appeared peaceful. Mr. Stepakoff took selfies in front of the Capitol. He then followed the crowd of Trump supporters through open doors of the Capitol building. The crowd walking into the Capitol also appeared peaceful.
 
Mr. Stepakoff walked into the Capitol, looked around, took some photographs, shook hands with a police officer — and then he walked out. Mr. Stepakoff spent a total of 5 minutes in the hallway of the Capitol, half of which was standing against a corner wall, looking down at his cell phone, distracted by his mobile device. When he wasn’t on his phone, he walked around the hallway slowly, aimlessly, staying within close range of the entry doors — appearing aloof, incognizant, and out of place.
 
Like many, Mr. Stepakoff was unaware that protesting inside the Capitol building was a criminal act. Mr. Stepakoff had his face open and shook hands with a police officer. Is this the behavior of a man who believes he is breaking the law? Of course not.
 
While Mr. Stepakoff was inside the Capitol hallway, there was no violence or destruction in his purview; instead, people were shaking hands with police officers and walking around peacefully. He observed police officers interacting with the Trump supports entering the Capitol, but they were not asking the protestors to leave. The 5-minute surveillance video depicting Mr. Stepakoff’s time in the Capitol shows at least 7 protestors walking up to a Capitol police officer to shake hands.
 
As is recorded in the FBI 302 of the interview with Mr. Stepakoff, on his way out of the Capitol, he “approached one of the officers and told him thank you for his service, we love you, and God bless you.”
 
The officers’ demeanor witnessed by Mr. Stepakoff did not indicate that the protestors who entered the Capitol were a threat to the officers or were committing crimes.
 
But we’re not asking anyone to take our word for it — we asked the court to release the video to the public so that the American people can watch the video and judge for themselves. Please watch the video posted on this page.
 
In their sentencing argument, the government relied on video footage of events taking place 12 minutes before Mr. Stepakoff arrived and 30 minutes after he left. The government then asked the court to penalize the defendant based on their emotional summation of the entirety of the evidence collected for the January 6 mass prosecution. The government asked the judge to jail Mr. Stepakoff for 14 days, in addition to 3 years of probation, plus community service, a fine, and restitution – a sentence request that was so grossly exuberant that it exceeded the boundaries of a sentence permitted by law for his offense.
 
The government did not rely on their security video of Mr. Stepakoff as primary evidence for the court to consider at sentencing. Instead, the government asked the court to look at the conduct of others in sentencing this defendant. This is rather incredible when considered against the backdrop of federal sentencing hearings. In what other case has the government chosen to shelve their primary evidence against the defendant and instead rely on euphuistic descriptions of the conduct of others who were present at different locations or at different times?
 
Mr. Stepakoff did not know on January 6 what we know today about January 6.
 
The government asked the court to punish the defendant for conduct that he did not know about, for events he did not partake in, for destruction and violence he did not witness, for severity he did not experience, and for an effect he did not cause nor could foresee.
 
The government’s broad-brush perspective of what happened on January 6 ignores the particularized perspective of the individuals in the crowd who came to protest lawfully but who followed the crowd into an unlawful demonstration inside of the Capitol. Likely, a large portion of the individuals in the crowd did not have a complete picture of what was happening around them, let alone what was happening at other entrances of the Capitol or what happened that led to the Capitol doors being opened before they walked through.
 
We believe a fair penalty would have been a $50 forfeiture and a dismissal disposition, just like the one paid by the Kavanaugh protesters arrested for disrupting proceedings in the Senate Gallery in 2018.
 
Complete defense pleadings with arguments as to appropriate sentencing have been posted at the bottom of this page for public reference.
 

-Marina Medvin, Esq.


January 6 Protest at the Capitol

Michael Stepakoff came to Washington DC for the patriot protest events scheduled for January 5th and 6th. Conservative politicians, activists, and religious leaders advertised rallies, speeches, and prayer groups ahead of the main rally event scheduled for the 6th with President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Stepakoff came to DC on his own to join the protest against election fraud, a demonstration in favor of election integrity. He brought his cell phone to live-stream his coverage of the various speeches and events to his Facebook followers, friends, and his congregation. (Religious leaders like Rabbi Mike are politically active in order to protect the rights and the interests of their religion and congregation. Like many of the more commonly known Evangelical pastors, Rabbi Mike includes political discussions in his sermons.)

On January 5, Mr. Stepakoff walked around the bazaar of speakers who came to take their turn sermonizing in front of the crowds of Trump supporters arriving for President Trump’s rally scheduled for the following day. Then he went sightseeing in DC. The 5th was rather uneventful.

On January 6, Michael Stepakoff ventured out to hear President Trump speak at the Ellipse. He stayed for most of the speech but left the area before President Trump concluded the address; he needed to use the restroom and had to return to his hotel. Afterward, Mr. Stepakoff made his way up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. He made his way to the Capitol because he expected for there to be another protest event of Trump supporters — as President Trump encouraged his supporters during his speech to make their way towards the Capitol, to protest there. Indeed, there were large crowds of Trump supporters protesting in front of the Capitol when Mr. Stepakoff arrived. He took selfies in front of the Capitol and then followed the crowd of Trump supporters through open doors of the Capitol building.

Michael Stepakoff walked into the Capitol building hallway, looked around, took some photographs, shook hands with a police officer — and then he walked out.

The five-minute surveillance video depicting Mr. Stepakoff’s time in the Capitol shows at least seven of the protestors walking up to a Capitol police officer to shake hands.

Mr. Stepakoff spent five minutes in the hallway of Capitol, half of which was standing against a corner wall, looking down at his cell phone,  distracted by his mobile device. When he wasn’t on his phone, he walked around the hallway slowly, aimlessly, staying within close range of the entry doors — appearing aloof, incognizant, and out of place.

After walking out, Mr. Stepakoff spent a few minutes on the lawn of the Capitol, again on his phone, and then went back to the hotel.

After arriving back at the hotel, Mr. Stepakoff began hearing reports of violence at the Trump rally that he had just left. Mr. Stepakoff immediately brushed the stories off as a combination of media embellishment and infiltration by Antifa or other malicious actors who were trying to make Trump supporters look bad. 

Indeed, the videos shot by Mr. Stepakoff show peaceful Trump protestors. And, while Mr. Stepakoff was inside the Capitol hallway, there was no violence or destruction in his purview; instead, people were shaking hands with police officers and walking around peacefully.   

Click to View
Michael Stepakoff
Government Security Cam Video
 

He observed police officers interacting with the Trump supports entering the Capitol, but they were not asking the protestors to leave. The officers’ demeanor witnessed by Mr. Stepakoff did not indicate that the protestors who entered the Capitol were a threat to the officers or were committing crimes. Like many, Mr. Stepakoff was unaware that protesting inside the Capitol building was a criminal act.

That same evening, Michael Stepakoff decided to defend the peaceful Trump protestors he observed around him, even writing a Facebook post to comment on how his personal experience differed from what he saw on the news. “There was very little violence in this demonstration, despite the fake news images being shown, it was almost completely a peaceful demonstration within the context of the First Amendment,” he declared. It took Mr. Stepakoff a few weeks to comprehend the scope of everything that happened that day.


Michael Stepakoff: Rabbi Mike

Michael Stepakoff is a 56-year-old ordained messianic rabbi in Palm Harbor, Florida.  

Mr. Stepakoff is fondly called “Rabbi Mike” by his congregation at Temple New Jerusalem, a messianic temple that he founded over 20 years ago in the Tampa Bay area.

Rabbi Mike conducts community outreach through public speaking and creative media, engaging in songwriting, book writing, event presentations, YouTube videos, Facebook engagement, and position papers on the topic of messianic Judaism — a Jewish cultural lifestyle that accepts Jesus as the Messiah and shares many of the same beliefs as Christianity. 

Rabbi Mike also conducts weekly webinars and podcasts to reach Americans throughout the country who are interested in learning about messianic Judaism.

Outside the religious community, he is known as “Coach Mike.” He served as a head coach of youth sports in tackle football and basketball for over twelve years.

Michael Stepakoff was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Florida State University and went on to study law at the Stetson University College of Law. He comes from a solid and loving family, both in his upbringing and the family he leads today. 

Mr. Stepakoff has been happily married to Tara Stepakoff for 27 years, with whom he proudly raised four wonderful children. 

Before his rabbinical position, Mr. Stepakoff worked as an attorney. He practiced criminal defense from 1990 through 2000, representing indigent inner-city defendants for state-level offenses in Florida. He was ordained as a messianic rabbi in 1998 while still working as a lawyer. He transitioned into civil litigation in the year 2000 and practiced for six additional years, while simultaneously opening and running his own Temple. He left the legal profession and dedicated himself to religious life full-time in 2006. Of course, Mr. Stepakoff has no criminal record.

At his sentencing hearing, Mr. Stepakoff stated:

Entering the Capitol was a terrible mistake on my part. I deeply regret it. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. It was not done in defiance or as an act of civil disobedience, but because I failed to properly appreciate the situation.

I went up Pennsylvania Ave. amidst throngs of people, and I followed the crowd and entered thru an open door of the Capital building, in the plain view of law enforcement both inside and outside the Capital. 

I note that as people were being allowed to flow into the Capital, no arrests were being made, no warnings and no instructions to leave the premises were being given, no violence was taking place, and there was a lot of friendly engagement between the police and the protestors. All of what I describe is clear to see in the CCTV video. 

Although in hindsight, I now know that I was clearly mistaken, it seemed at the time, that the protest which I had come to DC to be a part of was continuing lawfully and without objection from law enforcement inside of the building in that lobby area called the “Senate Wing.” 

I went to Washington to witness a historic event and to let my voice be heard as part of it. This seemed like a pivotal and historic moment in our country, and whatever the outcome I wanted to be a part of it, and be able to talk about it over livestream. If the GOP lost, so be it. There’s always another election in two years and then four years. That’s America. 

I was horrified to learn of the chaos and violence that broke out, which contradicted and undermined the whole point of the gathering. I had no part in any of it, nor did I witness it. If I had witnessed it, I would have made an immediate U-turn and gone back to my hotel. 

I accept that entry into the Capital was NOT lawful. I was wrong to think that it was. Even though I was only in there for a few minutes, in one small area, and all I did was lean up against a wall, take some selfies, and then I complimented the officers and thanked them for the service before exiting, still, I had no right to be there. I accept that. And that’s why I pled guilty to the unlawful parading charge.

I feel that I failed to properly assess and understand the situation, and I deeply regret it, and take full responsibility for that failure. Thank you.


Michael Stepakoff’s Sentencing Argument

“The appropriate sentence for Michael Stepakoff, a 56-year-old Messianic Rabbi with a clean record, a loyal husband and loving father to four children, is a fine in the amount of $50 for his first offense Class B misdemeanor conviction for Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building under 40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(G). Mr. Stepakoff’s relevant conduct is nonviolent parading on January 6, 2021, by entering through open doors of the United States Capitol Building — where he took photographs of the hallway and shook hands with police officers — and exited within five minutes.”
Michael Stepakoff sentencing memorandum filed 1:11

Michael Stepakoff’s Response to the Government’s Sentencing Argument

“In seeking an extraordinary penalty for a parading Rabbi, the government has filed a memorandum with blatant misrepresentations of fact which amount to what could only be described as a shameless attempt at character assassination. All the while, the government asks for this Court to impose a penalty higher than one authorized by law — one of both probation and incarceration.”
Stepakoff Response to Governemnt Sentencing Memorandum
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