The leader of the Proud Boys extremist group has been unmasked as a “prolific” former FBI informant.
Enrique Tarrio, 36, worked undercover exposing a human trafficking ring, and helped with drug and gambling cases, according to court documents.
Tarrio’s documented involvement with law enforcement related to the period 2012 -2014. There was no evidence of him cooperating after that.
But the revelation raised further questions over why police did not take further steps to secure the US Capitol ahead of the riots on Jan 6.
At least half a dozen members of the Proud Boys were arrested over involvement in the riots.
Tarrio denied ever being an informer, telling Reuters: “I don’t know any of this. I don’t recall any of this.”
But his past was revealed in court in Miami in 2014 when he pleaded guilty to fraud in a case involving the sale of stolen diabetes test kits.
In a bid to reduce his sentence the prosecutor, an FBI agent, and his own defence lawyer, detailed how he had helped the authorities to charge 13 people in a variety of other cases.
That led to his sentence for the fraud case being reduced from 30 months to 16 months.
Jeffrey Feiler, Tarrio’s lawyer, told the court his client had been a “prolific” cooperator.
He worked undercover in an investigation into the sale of anabolic steroids, and in another involving “wholesale prescription narcotics”.
In a further case, the lawyer said, Tarrio “at his own risk, in an undercover role, met and negotiated to pay $11,000 to members of that [human trafficking] ring to bring in fictitious family members of his from another country.”
An FBI agent called Tarrio a “key component” in drug investigations involving cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
The judge, Joan A. Lenard, said he “provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of other persons involved in criminal conduct.”
In a statement this week Vanessa Singh Johannes, who was the prosecutor in the 2014 case, confirmed: “He [Tarrio] cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”
Tarrio maintained that the sentence in his 2014 case was reduced because he and other co-defendants had helped to “clear up” questions about that investigation.
He said he never helped authorities to investigate other people.
The Proud Boys group was founded in 2016 and Tarrio became the national chairman two years later.
Members of the group have repeatedly clashed with Antifa in street fights in various cities.
In September the self-described “Western chauvinist” organisation became internationally known when Donald Trump was asked to denounce them in a presidential debate.
Mr Trump responded: “Proud Boys stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”
On Dec 11 Tarrio was seen telling a cheering crowd in Washington: “To the parasites both in Congress and in that stolen White House. You want a war, you got one!”
The next day he burned a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a black church in Washington.
After returning to his home in Miami, Tarrio admitted doing so. He said: “I have nothing to hide. So let me make this simple. I did it.”
When he arrived in Washington ahead of the planned protest in support of Mr Trump on Jan 6, he was arrested for destruction of property over the burning of the Black Lives Matter banner.
At the time of his arrest he was carrying two high-capacity rifle magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo, police said.
A court ordered him to leave Washington and to return for a court hearing in June.
Tarrio therefore did not attend Mr Trump’s speech on Jan 6 and was not part of the mob that marched to the Capitol.
Among the Proud Boys members who did was Joseph Biggs, who was later arrested in Florida and charged with disorderly conduct and entering a restricted building.
According to the FBI, Biggs, an Army veteran, was one of the first in to the Capitol. He died having any knowledge of a plan to storm the building.