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Illinois man wants to withdraw guilty plea in Capitol riot case

Athanasios Zoyganeles claims in a new motion he has "newly discovered evidence" that will exonerate him of four misdemeanor counts stemming from Jan. 6.

WASHINGTON — An Illinois man who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of parading last month asked a judge this week to let him withdraw that plea and instead take his case to trial.

Athanasios Zoyganeles, 44, pleaded guilty last month to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. The charge is a petty misdemeanor offense that has, in some cases, resulted in probation-only sentences for other Jan. 6 defendants.

Zoyganeles was scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 30, but on Wednesday, his attorney filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

In the motion, Zoyganeles’ attorney, Allen H. Orenberg, said his client decided he wanted to withdraw his plea “in light of potentially newly discovered evidence.” The motion does not detail what that evidence is.

“Mr. Zoyganeles asserts he has newly discovered evidence which will exonerate him from all Four Counts of the Information,” Orenberg wrote.

Zoyganeles was arrested in February after a tipster alerted the FBI to posts about the riot on his Facebook page, including a “very creepy video of him in the Capitol saying, ‘Nazis, where are you??’” The tipster said the video shows Zoyganeles appearing to go through congressional offices and saying “let’s clean up” as he and other members of the mob rifled through books and files.

Investigators subsequently found more posts on Zoyganeles’ Facebook page appearing to show him at the Capitol, along with Facebook messages discussing his plans to travel to D.C.

Zoyganeles was charged with four misdemeanor counts, including two Class “A” misdemeanors that carry a maximum sentence of up to a year in prison. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal he signed in June but, as his attorney said in a footnote in Wednesday’s filing, would likely be refiled if his plea is withdrawn.

“Undersigned counsel advised Mr. Zoyganeles of the risks of filing the instant motion,” Orenberg wrote. “Particularly that if the Motion is granted the defendant could risk conviction on all four counts of the Information and likely face a substantially ‘harsher’ sentence. Similarly, based on filing the instant motion seeking to withdraw the plea he may risk losing any sentencing consideration based on ‘acceptance of responsibility,’ even though this is a non-guidelines case. Nevertheless, he has unequivocally made clear that, notwithstanding the attendant risks, defendant wishes to move to withdraw his plea and proceed to a resolution on the merits.”

If Zoyganeles’ guilty plea is withdrawn, prosecutors can also use it against him at trial. The agreement he signed in June includes a provision stating the Justice Department “will be free to use against your client, directly and indirectly, in any criminal or civil proceeding, all statements made by your clients and any of the information or materials provided by your client.”

The statement of facts signed by Zoyganeles on June 27 includes an admission that he entered the Capitol and went into multiple rooms on Jan. 6. It also includes an admission that he made multiple social media posts before and after the riot about his plans and involvement, including one made Dec. 22 in which he wrote: “This is what needs to happen in Washington D.C. on the 6th. just rush Capital hill.” In a comment four days later, Zoyganeles wrote, “The people are storming Washington D.C. on the 6th.”

On Jan. 5, a day before the riot, Zoyganeles commented on a Facebook post, writing, “We need to take over capital hill.”

And on Jan. 6, in response to another Facebook user asking him if he was OK, Zoyganeles admitted he wrote, “No I rushed the capital and lost everyone I was with,” later adding, “No im done i was teargassed maced and they were throwing flash bangs at me but I still stayed on the front lines.”

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg will decided whether Zoyganeles will be allowed to withdraw his plea. While withdrawing a guilty plea after sentencing is difficult to accomplish, the rules governing federal judges instruct them to allow defendant to withdraw their pleas prior to sentencing if they can show “a fair and just reason” for requesting withdrawal. A date to hear Zoyganeles’ request hadn’t yet been scheduled.

Zoyganeles isn’t the first Jan. 6 defendant to attempt to withdraw his plea. In September, Paul Hodgkins, the first defendant to be sentenced in a Capitol riot case, informed a judge he had brought on a new lawyer to pursue withdrawing his plea – although no such motion was ever filed. And in May, Beverly Hills salon owner Gina Bisginano informed U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols she wanted to withdraw her plea to a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding. Nichols has not yet ruled on that request.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

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