1:18 PM PDT, September 30, 2021
Five-time Olympian Klete Keller has pleaded guilty to a felony charge for his part in the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, and in a plea deal with prosecutors is cooperating with the Department of Justice to potentially testify against other alleged rioters, according to published reports.
As part of the plea bargain with prosecutors, Keller, who had been indicted on seven charges and was arrested in January at his Colorado home, pleaded guilty in United States District Court in Washington on Wednesday to a single charge of obstructing an official proceeding under Congress, a felony with estimated sentencing of 21 to 27 months behind bars, NBC News reported.
In return, the government dropped one other felony charge and five misdemeanor counts, the news outlet reported.
As part of the plea agreement, Keller has agreed to cooperate in their investigation of the Capitol riot, and could be called upon to testify in related court proceedings, CNN reported.
The deal with Keller suggests prosecutors might try to use Keller as a star witness at upcoming trials, banking on his notoriety as an accomplished athlete, who won gold medals in swimming at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics, according to CNN.
Through video footage, investigators were able to identify the 6-foot-6 Keller inside the Capitol rotunda, who was wearing his Olympic team jacket during the violent protest, the news outlet reported.
At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors said Keller shouted about Democratic lawmakers, squared off against police, and shook off officers who tried to remove him from the building. Prosecutors said in the days that followed, he discarded his Olympic team jacket and destroyed the phone and memory card he brought to the Capitol.
The Justice Department and Keller agreed to delay sentencing until after he has finished assisting investigators, CNN reported.
Keller’s attorney, Edward MacMahon, told the judge that Keller “is obviously trying to make amends for the terrible decision he made on January 6,” CNN reported. “He’s embarrassed by what he did that day and wants to make amends to the court and to the American people,” MacMahon said.
After his arrest, USA Swimming denounced the former gold medalist’s involvement in the insurrection, NBC News reported.
“Mr. Keller’s actions in no way represent the values or mission of USA Swimming,” the organization said. “And while once a swimmer at the highest levels of our sport — representing the country and democracy he so willfully attacked, Mr. Keller has not been a member of this organization since 2008.”
Since the breach of the Capitol, prosecutors have charged at least 615 people, and 90 defendants have pleaded guilty so far, with most admitting to misdemeanor charges, a report said.
Keller, 38, has won five Olympic swimming medals, including two gold, one silver, and two bronze, according to the International Olympics Committee website.
During the 2004 Olympic Games in Athen, he anchored the winning U.S. team in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, in which he held off gold medalist Ian Thorpe of Australia. He won four other medals at three Olympics, including gold in the same event in 2008 in Beijing, CNN previously reported.