A federal judge handed a downstate Galesburg man a hefty prison sentence of nearly nine years Tuesday for burning down a Sprint store during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis before moving on to Chicago, where he was arrested, prosecutors said.
The sentence falls just 10 months short of what prosecutors called for last month, when they wrote in a court memo that Matthew Lee Rupert, 29, “drove over 400 miles to exploit an aggrieved community for fun.” They wrote that he “packed a duffle bag full of artillery-shell fireworks, but apparently forgot his signs protesting the death of George Floyd.”
Rupert’s lawyer, Jordan Kushner, later asked for a five-year sentence and accused prosecutors of overstating the case. He wrote that “Mr. Rupert takes responsibility for setting a fire, but such destruction was not part of any prior plan.”
“Mr. Rupert like many others got caught up in the mob,” Kushner wrote. “It is not an excuse, but it is still a fact which accurately explains that he did not come to Minneapolis for the purpose of causing serious physical destruction.”
Rupert pleaded guilty to arson in April, admitting he posted a roughly two-hour video to Facebook Live on May 29, 2020, in which he could be seen encouraging violence against law enforcement, damaging property, breaking into buildings and looting businesses in Minneapolis.
His plea agreement says he could be heard on the video declaring, “We came to riot!”
Eventually, Rupert can also be seen asking for lighter fluid and entering a boarded-up Sprint store, according to the plea deal. It said he entered a back room of the store, knocked boxes into a pile on the ground and sprayed them with lighter fluid. A juvenile Rupert brought along with him from Galesburg then lit the pile on fire at Rupert’s direction, according to the document.
The resulting fire totaled the store, according to the feds. Liberty Mutual, which insured the property, had paid nearly $4 million to repair the building and replace lost rental income as of July, and Sprint lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory, they said.
Rupert moved on from Minneapolis to Chicago as rioting and looting began to break out here on May 30, 2020. He did so even though someone warned him on Facebook that in Chicago, “they just dont pull out guns they use them,” records show. But Rupert was soon arrested after violating the curfew Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced in response to the unrest, records show.