The leader of the Proud Boys extremist group in the US, Enrique Tarrio, has denied he used to work undercover for federal and local law enforcement agencies.
- In 2014, a prosecutor said Mr Tarrio’s information led to the prosecution of 13 people on federal charges in two separate cases
- Mr Tarrio’s then-lawyer said he was a was a “prolific” co-operator who helped police uncover three marijuana grow houses
- He was arrested in Washington DC and charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines two days before the Capitol Hill riot earlier this month
A transcript of a 2014 federal court hearing, which was obtained by Reuters, reportedly revealed Mr Tarrio repeatedly worked as an informer for investigators after he was arrested in 2012.
In the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, a FBI agent and Mr Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.
However, Mr Tarrio told Reuters he had no recollection of working undercover or cooperating in cases against others.
“I don’t know any of this,” the 36-year-old said when asked about the transcript.
“I don’t recall any of this.”
Law-enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Mr Tarrio’s denial.
In a statement, the former federal prosecutor in Mr Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he 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”.
LoadingMr Tarrio is a high-profile figure who organises and leads the right-wing Proud Boys in their confrontations with those they believe to be Antifa short for “anti-fascism” an amorphous and often violent leftist movement.
The Proud Boys were involved in the deadly riot at the Capitol on January 6.
Tarrio arrested ahead of Capitol Hill riot
Washington police arrested Mr Tarrio in early January when he arrived in the city two days before the Capitol Hill riot.
He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines, and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
People at a pro-Trump demonstration holding a sign reading “Free Enrique” following his arrest earlier in January.(AP Photo: Jacquelyn Martin)
The DC Superior Court ordered him to leave the city pending a court date in June.
Though Mr Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol riot, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged over the incident.
The FBI has said Mr Tarrio’s arrest in the lead-up was an effort to pre-empt the events of January 6.
Lawyer tells court Tarrio was a ‘prolific’ cooperator
The transcript from 2014 shines a new light on Mr Tarrio’s past connections to law enforcement.
During the hearing, the prosecutor and Mr Tarrio’s defence lawyer asked a judge to reduce his prison sentence and that of two co-defendants.
They had pleaded guilty in a fraud case related to the relabelling and sale of stolen diabetes test kits.
The prosecutor said Mr Tarrio’s information had led to the prosecution of 13 people on federal charges in two separate cases, and had helped local authorities investigate a gambling ring.
Members of the Proud Boys have been involved in violent confrontations with Antifa, an amorphous and often violent leftist movement.(AP” Noah Berger)
Mr Tarrio’s then-lawyer Jeffrey Feiler said in court that his client had worked undercover in numerous investigations, one involving the sale of anabolic steroids, another regarding “wholesale prescription narcotics” and a third targeting human smuggling.
He said Mr Tarrio helped police uncover three marijuana grow houses, and was a “prolific” co-operator.
In the smuggling case, Mr Tarrio, “at his own risk, in an undercover role met and negotiated to pay $11,000 to members of that ring to bring in fictitious family members of his from another country”, the lawyer said in court.
In an interview, Mr Feiler said he did not recall details about the case.
“The information I provided to the court was based on information provided to me by law enforcement and the prosecutor,” he added.
An FBI agent at the hearing called Mr Tarrio a “key component” in local police investigations involving marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, or ecstasy.
The Miami FBI office declined comment. There was no evidence Mr Tarrio had cooperated with authorities since then.
In his interview with Reuters, however, Mr Tarrio said that before rallies in various cities, he would let police departments know of the Proud Boys’ plans.
It is unclear if this was actually the case.
He said he stopped this coordination after December 12 just weeks before the riot because the DC police had cracked down on the group.
Tarrio helped ‘clear up’ questions but denies being an informant
Mr Tarrio acknowledged that his fraud sentence was reduced, from 30 to 16 months, but insisted that leniency was provided only because he and his co-defendants helped investigators “clear up” questions about his own case.
He said he never helped investigate others.
That comment contrasts with statements made in court by the prosecutor, his lawyer and the FBI.
The judge in the case, Joan A Lenard, said Mr Tarrio “provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of other persons involved in criminal conduct”.
As Trump supporters challenged the Republican’s election loss in often violent demonstrations, Mr Tarrio stood out for his swagger as he led crowds of mostly white Proud Boys in a series of confrontations and street brawls in Washington DC, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere.
The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, began as a group protesting political correctness and perceived constraints on masculinity.
The Proud Boys were involved in the deadly riot at the Capitol.(AP: Jose Luis Magana)
It grew into a group with distinctive colours of yellow and black that embraced street fighting.
In September their profile soared when Mr Trump called on them to “Stand back and stand by”.
Mr Tarrio, based in Miami, became the national chairman of the group in 2018.
In November and December, Mr Tarrio led the Proud Boys through the streets of DC after Mr Trump’s loss.
Video from December 11 shows him with a megaphone in front of a large crowd.
“To the parasites both in Congress, and in that stolen White House,” he said.
“You want a war, you got one!” The crowd roared. The next day Mr Tarrio allegedly burned the BLM banner.
Former prosecutor, Ms Johannes, said she was surprised that the defendant she prosecuted for fraud was now a key player in the violent movement that sought to halt the certification of President Joe Biden.
“I knew that he was a fraudster, but had no reason to know that he was also a domestic terrorist,” she said.