On Thursday, Rep. Chip Roy (TX-21) demanded DOJ and the former Acting United States Attorney for Minnesota justify giving a career criminal an abnormally lenient sentence for setting a lethal fire.
The perpetrator, Montez Terriel Lee, Jr., set a pawn shop on fire during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis; that fire killed a father of five whose body was later discovered in the rubble. Lee had prior convictions for burglary, assault, violation of a no contact order, and theft of property, and was apparently under sentence for a previous crime at the time of this offense.
“This is a man that clearly has no respect for our laws,” wrote Rep. Roy. “Yet your office took pains to explain away and justify his actions.”
The sentencing brief for Mr. Lee “reads as if it were written by the defendant’s counsel rather than the prosecuting attorney,” Rep. Roy pointed out.
In it, officials advocated for a significantly reduced sentence for Mr. Lee, calling him “angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised” by racial politics and the George Floyd killing, even invoking Dr. Martin Luther King’s words to explain away Mr. Lee’s crime.
Rep. Roy demanded to know whether political influence from Main Justice played a role the low sentence, accusing DOJ of downplaying violence because the defendant held the administration’s preferred political views.
“The principle of equal justice under the law demands that favor not be given based on political views. However, it would appear that Mr. Lee is enjoying the benefits of kid-gloved, preferential treatment in this case because he committed violence in furtherance of the preferred political views of your office and the current administration,” Rep. Roy concluded.
Full text of the letter can be found below and at the link here:
W. Anders Folk
Office of the Deputy Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Mr. Folk:
On November 4, 2021, you filed, in your former capacity as the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, a Position of the United States with Respect to Sentencing in the case of United States v. Montez Terriel Lee, Jr. The document reads as if it were written by the defendant’s counsel rather than the prosecuting attorney and, in it, your office advocated for a significant downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines, asking for a term of imprisonment of 144 months with a guideline range of 235-240 months. I write to determine how you arrived at this decision and who influenced it.
Mr. Lee set a building on fire during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis, resulting in the death of another human being. Mr. Lee is a career criminal: he has prior convictions for burglary, assault, violation of a no contact order, and theft of property. He was apparently still under sentence for a previous crime at the time of this offense. This is a man that clearly has no respect for our laws. Yet your office took pains to explain away and justify his actions. You wrote, calling this an “extraordinary case,” that Mr. Lee was simply feeling “angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised” and his actions were an attempt “to give voice to those feelings.” Invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, you stated that Mr. Lee “appears to have believed that he was, in Dr. King’s eloquent words, engaging in ‘the language of the unheard’.” It is hard to understand why the representative for the United States government is taking great pains to minimize the actions of a defendant with a significant criminal history who committed a violent crime that cost another man his life.
In order to better understand how your office arrived at this recommendation and the decision to draft such an extraordinary document, please respond to the following questions regarding the development of your recommendations:
1. Who in your office at the time contributed to, or participated in, the drafting of this document?
2. Did anyone at Main Justice in Washington, D.C. contribute to, participate in, or have knowledge of the sentencing recommendation of 144 months?
3. Did anyone in your office at the time speak to anyone at Main Justice about this case before filing your recommendation with the court?
4. You cited four comparative cases in which “arson or the detonation of a destructive device took a human life.” Please provide the Sentencing Guideline ranges for each of these defendants as well as the recommendation of the United States Attorney in each of those cases.
The principle of equal justice under the law demands that favor not be given based on political views. However, it would appear that Mr. Lee is enjoying the benefits of kid-gloved, preferential treatment in this case because he committed violence in furtherance of the preferred political views of your office and the current administration. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee with oversight over the Department of Justice, I sincerely hope that was not the case; but given the words and actions of this Attorney General, his FBI, and his federal prosecutors over the course of the past year, I would not find it surprising in the least.
Please provide a response to this letter, and answers to the above questions, within 30 days.
Thank you for your attention in this matter.
Member of Congress