Jeremy Bertino, a top lieutenant to Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in federal court on Thursday, and is cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation into the far-right extremist group.
Bertino, 43, also pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. He is the first member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy – a major boost to the historic prosecution of the organization.
He could spend more than five years in prison, according to his plea agreement, which was read aloud in court, though prosecutors could ask a judge for a lesser sentence depending on his level of cooperation with the investigation.
The judge did not set a sentencing date. Bertino’s next hearing is scheduled for February 2023. Bertino will not be held in jail. He will not be able to have a passport or firearms, and will not be able to return to Washington unless it is to meet with prosecutors or participate in court proceedings.
Bertino was listed in previous indictments as “PERSON-1,” but has not publicly faced charges. He is not alleged to have been in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. Prosecutors have previously outlined his involvement in Proud Boys leadership and extensive planning meetings and chats.
Even though he was not present for the Capitol riot, Bertino could provide crucial testimony for prosecutors in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial, which is set to begin in December of this year.
According to the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy indictment, Bertino was in a number of encrypted group chats meant to plan for January 6. The groups, including the main “Boots on Ground” channel, included all of the Proud Boys sedition defendants – Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl. They have pleaded not guilty.
Bertino posted instructions for January 6 in the chats, prosecutors say, telling Proud Boys where to meet and to not wear the usual Proud Boys colors, though he ultimately did not travel to Washington because he was recovering from a stab injury from a previous DC rally.
After 1 p.m. on January 6, Bertino, along with another member of the group posted messages in a Proud Boys chat to “Push inside! Find some eggs and rotten tomatoes!” and asking if “they deploy the mace yet,” according to the indictment.
Bertino posted publicly to rioters, writing “DO NOT GO HOME. WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF SAVING THE CONSTITUTION.”
Bertino also texted Tarrio on the evening of January 6, saying: “Brother. You know we made this happen” and “I’m so proud of my country today,” according to the indictment. “I know,” Tarrio allegedly replied.
According to prosecutors, Bertino later replied “1776 motherf*****s” to Tarrio, adding later “Dude. Did we just influence history?”
“They HAVE to certify today!” Bertino allegedly texted. “Or it’s invalid.”
The same day Tarrio was arrested in March 2022, investigators executed a search warrant at Bertino’s house, according to court documents. Agents found six firearms, including an AR-15 rifle with a scope, and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition, prosecutors said. Bertino had previously been convicted of a felony and was not allowed to own a firearm.
Bertino previously testified to the House select committee investigating January 6, and a clip of his testimony was played at a public hearing in June.
The committee used a clip from Bertino’s deposition to show how former President Donald Trump’s call for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a 2020 presidential debate when asked if he was willing to condemn White supremacists and militia groups in turn energized individuals from the Proud Boys and other extremist groups.
When asked if the membership to the Proud Boys increased after Trump’s “stand back and stand by” comment, Bertino testified, “Exponentially. I’d say tripled probably. With a potential for a lot more probably.”
He also may be eligible for witness protection, according to his plea agreement.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year of Enrique Tarrio’s arrest and the search of Jeremy Bertino’s residence. The events took place in March 2022. This story has also been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Annie Grayer contributed to this report.