TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Palm Harbor rabbi was arrested Friday and is facing several charges after he entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to the United States Department of Justice.
After reviewing surveillance video from the riot in Washington earlier this month, a special agent with the FBI said Michael Stepakoff can be seen entering the Capitol building around 3 p.m. 8 On Your Side has learned Stepakoff is the rabbi of the Temple New Jerusalem, a messianic synagogue in Palm Harbor.
According to a complaint and statement of facts document released by the DOJ, Stepakoff could be seen wearing a dark-colored hat with white lettering on the front, a green-colored jacket, blue jeans and brown boots.
In the surveillance video, the DOJ said he could be seen taking approximately eight photos with his cell phone.
The DOJ said a person familiar with Stepakoff for roughly 20 years was able to identify him to officials.
Additionally, the DOJ’s statement of facts mentioned that several photos were posted to a Facebook account with the username “Michael Stepakoff” showing him outside the Capitol. One of the photos was a selfie, showing Stepakoff in a large group of people.
Stepakoff’s wife commented on one of his posts saying, “please continue to [pray] for his protection and to be safe. He texted me privately and said he is okay but it’s very dangerous where he is- He was inside the
Capital Building,” the DOJ said.
An FBI agent said another witness and person close to Stepakoff spoke to him during the evening of Jan. 6. During the phone call, Stepakoff told the individual he had entered the U.S. Capitol through the main doors earlier in the day.
“I’m not sure to what extent his presence there makes him guilty of any crime,” Defense Attorney Representative Rick Terrana said. “He just followed the crowd over to the capital just intending to be nothing more than a spectator and ended up going into the capital after it was opened up, an hour or so after this incident that we all saw on TV.”
The United States District Court said Stepakoff is being charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, knowingly engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in any restricted building or grounds and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
According to the DOJ, Stepakoff had a first appearance in federal court Friday, located in Tampa. He was released on a $25,000 bond and had to surrender all firearms in his possession.