Illinois man pleads guilty to arson of Minneapolis cellphone store

Rupert faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Matthew Lee Rupert/Sherburne County Jail

An Illinois man who traveled to Minneapolis to participate in last spring’s riots has pleaded guilty in federal court to arson and is expected to face at least five years in prison.

A statement released by W. Anders Folk, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, said that Matthew Lee Rupert, 28, pleaded guilty to one count of arson.

Rupert was charged in June after authorities said he posted multiple videos on Facebook showing him engaged in and inciting violence. Rupert was originally charged with three counts, including civil disorder, engaging in or promoting rioting, and possession of unregistered destructive devices, but the other charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Court documents say that on May 28, 2020, Rupert, who is from Galesburg, Ill., posted messages on his Facebook account referencing the public protests occurring in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd. One post stated, “I’m going to Minneapolis tomorrow who coming only goons I’m renting hotel rooms.”

On May 29, 2020, Rupert posted a self-recorded cellphone video to his Facebook account indicating that he was in Minneapolis. In the live video, Rupert announced that he came “to riot,” and was depicted encouraging violence against law enforcement officers, actively damaging property, breaking into buildings, and looting businesses.

The video further depicted Rupert asking for lighter fluid before entering a boarded-up Sprint store located on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Rupert canvassed the store and eventually entered a back room while telling others that he had located a store safe. Rupert and others then knocked several boxes into a pile on the ground before Rupert sprayed the pile of boxes with lighter fluid and another individual — at the time a juvenile and acting at Rupert’s direction — lit the pile on fire. Rupert fled the building and stated, “I lit it on fire!” The store sustained damage as a result of the fire.

Rupert is one of several people federally charged in relation to last spring’s riots and arsons. A number of those charged have already pleaded guilty and some have begun to be sentenced.

Rupert faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, but prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel for seven-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half years.

Rupert is currently being held in the Sherburne County Jail for sentencing, which will be at a later date.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.