A federal judge on Friday sentenced Samuel Elliott Frey, 20, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., to more than two years in federal prison for setting fire to a health food store during the riots that followed the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Frey pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to commit arson. He admitted pouring hand sanitizer onto a bookshelf at Great Health Nutrition on University Avenue and igniting the liquid. The fire burned for a short time, but it activated the store's sprinklers, which caused extensive water damage.
Federal guidelines call for a prison term of at least 37 months, but in sentencing Frey to 27 months, Judge Nancy Brasel acknowledged his youth, otherwise minimal criminal record, as well as mental health challenges that resulted from childhood trauma.
During a 50-minute hearing at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis, Brasel said Frey’s actions were solely "about rioting and violence," and had nothing to do with protesting Floyd’s death.
Brasel also told Frey that he "caused great damage to the cause of peaceful protest everywhere," and to “democracy itself.”
Frey, who declined to comment to MPR News after the hearing, apologized for his actions. Brasel also ordered him to pay $33,827 in restitution and serve two years of supervised release. The judge allowed Frey to remain free for the next two months while the Bureau of Prisons determines where he’ll be housed.
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Frey is the second defendant to be sentenced for the Great Health Nutrition arson. In May, Brasel sentenced McKenzy Ann DeGidio Dunn to 180 days of home confinement, three years probation and 100 hours of community service. Dunn, 21, was the only person convicted of federal arson charges in connection with the 2020 riots not sent to prison.
Frey’s prison term is shorter than the sentences most other federal arson defendants received.
In August, Brasel sent Matthew Lee Rupert of Galesburg, Ill., to federal prison for eight years and nine months after he was captured on security video inside a Lake Street cellphone store dousing boxes with lighter fluid. Moments later, in his own video, Rupert, 29, is heard saying “I lit it on fire.”
Authorities said Rupert, who has an extensive criminal history, announced his plans to riot on social media and called for “goons” to join him on his trip to Minneapolis. He also livestreamed for two hours as he handed out fireworks for fellow rioters to throw at police.
Rupert’s sentence, which is five months less than prosecutors requested, is the longest yet for a 2020 rioter.
The four men who pleaded guilty to setting fires at the 3rd Precinct police station are also serving prison time.
Last year U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz sentenced Branden Michael Wolfe, 24, to 41 months; Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, 24, to 48 months; Davon De-Andre Turner, 26 to 36 months; and Bryce Michael Williams, 28, to 27 months for conspiracy to commit arson.
Schiltz also ordered the men to pay $12 million in restitution.
Garrett Patrick Ziegler of Long Lake, Minn., and Fornandous Cortez Henderson of Savage, Minn., each pleaded guilty to a more serious charge of aiding and abetting arson. Judge Susan Richard Nelson gave Ziegler, 26, the mandatory minimum of five years. She sentenced Henderson, 34, to 6 1/2 years.
Other defendants serving federal prison time for arson include Marc Bell Gonzales, 30, of Wayzata, Minn., and Alexander Steven Heil, 23, of Monticello, Minn. The men were sentenced to 37 months and 30 months, respectively for setting fire to the Wells Fargo bank branch at Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue South.
Matthew Scott White, 33, of Minneapolis is serving a six-year sentence for burning down an Enterprise car rental office on University Avenue in St. Paul.
Montez Terriel Lee Jr. of Rochester, Minn., is among the last arson defendants to face a federal judge. Lee, 26, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 14 for a fire that destroyed the Max It pawn shop on Lake St. The remains of Oscar Lee Stewart Jr., 30, were found in the building’s wreckage nearly two months after the fire. Prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Lee to 12 years in prison.