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Man pleads guilty to damaging senator’s entry over COVID aid

April 19, 2021 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A man who used an ax to smash windows at the entrance of Republican North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven’s office in downtown Fargo over frustrations about a coronavirus bill pleaded guilty Monday in federal court.

Thomas Starks, 30, of Lisbon, located 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of Fargo, is charged with destruction of government property for causing the damage discovered by staffers on Dec. 21. Later that day the Senate passed a COVID-19 stimulus bill, following months of delays.

Tatum O’Brien, Starks’ lawyer, said her client and his family were struggling financially and “relying heavily” on the relief bill to be passed.

“When the individual economic relief was reduced, he felt frustrated, stressed, and reacted very poorly when he felt his voice was not being heard. He did not intend scare or harm any person, and he deeply regrets his actions,” O’Brien said in a statement. “He pled guilty today because he wants to accept responsibility for his actions and move forward with his family as a law-abiding productive member of society.”

Hoeven’s office did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Police said Starks can be seen in security video walking up some stairs toward the entrance of Hoeven’s office. The video first shows him striking the intercom and security system and then hitting the windows with the ax.

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Investigators said the damage exceeded $1,000.

The federal charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The plea agreement calls for prosecutors to recommend a sentence at the low end of the guideline range.