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Feds charge Harrisburg woman accused of stealing Nancy Pelosi’s laptop

Prosecutors said they intend to charge Riley Williams, 22, with obstruction of Congress and theft of government property. The charges grew out of a tip agents got from her former romantic partner.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds a news conference last month at the Capitol in Washington.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds a news conference last month at the Capitol in Washington.Read moreJ. Scott Applewhite / AP

Federal prosecutors have charged a Harrisburg woman with stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, an allegation FBI agents began probing based on a tip from her former romantic partner.

Though authorities made those claims public over the weekend — that Riley Williams, 22, had taken the computer with the intent to sell it to the Russian security services — she was charged Sunday only with disorderly conduct and illegally entering the Capitol as they continued to investigate her purported role in the laptop theft.

But in Williams’ first court appearance Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Haughsby announced new charges filed later that day, including new charges of theft of government property and obstruction, felonies carrying potential sentences of up to two decades in prison.

He did not say whether investigators had confirmed the claims that Williams wanted to send the stolen laptop to Russia, nor did he indicate whether the computer had been recovered.

Williams’ attorney, federal public defender Lori J. Ulrich, pushed back, saying she was prepared to present evidence that the account from Williams’ ex had been blown out of proportion.

“A lot of these allegations are false,” she said. She did not elaborate nor respond to requests for comment after Tuesday’s hearing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson scheduled another hearing for Thursday, giving prosecutors time to prepare their arguments for detaining Williams until trial in one of the most closely watched cases charged so far in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

Williams said little during Tuesday’s proceedings, offering only one-word answers to a series of questions from the judge on whether she understood the charges against her. Few details have emerged about her life or what led to her presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A 2017 graduate of Mechanicsburg Area Senior High, she lived in an apartment with her mother and had worked for Keystone Human Services, a home health care agency focused on assisting the disabled, until her arrest Monday evening. The company confirmed it had fired her.

Williams’ mother described her daughter to British network ITV as an “empathetic and loving person” who had taken a sudden interest in President Donald Trump’s politics and far-right message boards. It was her father, the FBI said, who drove Williams to Washington to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally, though he told agents they were separated during the day and only met up later that evening for the drive back home.

In a court filing Sunday, FBI agents unspooled the account from Williams’ former partner, whom they did not identify, of her activities during the storming of the Capitol. Her ex accused her of stealing the computer from a conference room in Pelosi’s office suite and then bragging about her plans to send it to a friend in Russia who would sell it to the SVR, the Russian equivalent of the CIA.

That transaction fell through, Williams’ ex told agents, and it was unclear whether the computer remained in her possession or if it had been destroyed.

Investigators were able to identify Williams based on footage shot by an ITV journalist during the Capitol attack. In the video, she can be seen in a green T-shirt and brown coat, with a zebra-print bag slung over her shoulder, shouting “Up the Stairs! Go!” and guiding others up a staircase toward Pelosi’s office.But when FBI agents showed up at her apartment Sunday, her mother informed them that Williams had fled.

She changed her phone number and shut down social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, and Telegram.

FBI officials confirmed that Williams turned herself in late Monday, several hours after the news of the charges against her had spread widely online. They have declined to say anything more about the circumstances of that arrest or whether the laptop was recovered.

Since then, Williams has remained in custody at the Dauphin County Prison, pending a bail hearing scheduled for later this week.

“She’s had a horrific night,” Ulrich said during Tuesday’s hearing. Houghsby said Tuesday the government will seek to keep her incarcerated until her trial.

Also Tuesday, a former Pennsylvania State Police cadet from Lehigh County was released from custody while he awaits further proceedings in another case tied to the Capitol attack.

Craig Bingert, 29, of Slatington, Lehigh County, is accused of helping to topple a metal barricade where police struggled to keep rioters out of the Capitol building. During Bingert’s first court appearance in Philadelphia, the judge ordered him to stay out of Washington except for scheduled court hearings on his case.

While calling the Capitol riot “extraordinarily problematic,” Bingert’s attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr., on Tuesday lauded his client for proactively contacting authorities and arranging for his surrender Sunday after he noticed the FBI circulating his photo in an attempt to identify him.

“All over the county, jilted ex-lovers or former spouses have been calling and reporting people” who allegedly participated in the attack, Fuschino said. “That’s not what happened here. … He’s not hiding from anything. He’s addressing this head-on.”

Bingert, Fuschino said, had enrolled in the state police academy in 2015 but dropped out in less than a week after realizing that a career in law enforcement wasn’t for him.

FBI agents say footage from the riot shows Bingert aiding a group in shoving metal barricades against cornered police officers and later waving an American flag in a crowd chanting “F — the police.”

Federal authorities have charged more than 100 accused insurrectionists in the nearly two weeks since the riot, including five other Pennsylvania residents, most of whom were turned in by friends or family members or implicated by photos and videos they posted online.

Two Western Pennsylvania residents were arrested Tuesday. Matthew Perna, of Sharon, was turned in by multiple acquaintances who saw videos he posted from inside the Capitol on his Facebook account. He later confirmed to FBI agents he’d been there but said he was pushed into the building by the crowd and had not intended to enter, according to court filings in his case.

Prosecutors accused Jorden Mink, of Oakdale, outside Pittsburgh, of bashing in Capitol windows with a baseball bat and removing chairs and other property, passing them to others in the crowd outside.

Those previously charged include Terry Brown, a retired code enforcement officer from Lebanon County, and Andrew Wrigley, a former Center City artist who recently moved to Jim Thorpe. Both men face charges including unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds.

Robert Sanford, a retired Chester firefighter, is accused of throwing a fire extinguisher that injured three Capitol Police officers during a melee on the building steps.