People waiting for their cases to be heard in Eviction court at New Haven Superior Court in New Haven, Connecticut. Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Another office-seeker in the midst of a political campaign was charged Tuesday afternoon with breaking the law for his role in the Capitol riot aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election — this time charged in a proceeding held in a federal courtroom in New Haven.

The man charged Tuesday was Gino DiGiovanni Jr., a Republican candidate for mayor in Derby who also serves as an alderman and Republican town chair.

DiGiovanni, who is 42, was among the crowd of protesters who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to stop the counting of electoral votes certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Accompanied by attorney Martin Minnella, he turned himself in at New Haven’s Church Street federal courthouse Tuesday afternoon and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Garcia.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Boyles read the four misdemeanor charges against DiGiovanni. They include seeking to ​“impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session of Congress,” and ​“knowingly enter[ing] and remain[ing] in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.” 

DiGiovanni faces up to one year in prison on each of two of the charges, up to six months on each of the other two.

He appeared in court one day after an Atlanta grand jury indicted former President Donald Trump, in whose support DiGiovanni attended the D.C. rally, and 18 alleged co-conspirators for their actions in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

In court, DiGiovanni was informed of the charges against him. He did not enter a plea. 

“I understand that Mr. DiGiovanni has some weapons in his home,” Judge Garcia stated.

“He was going to going transfer those to a lawful possessor, his brother,” attorney Minnella replied. The judge asked whether the brother has a license to own guns; Minnella responded, ​“I’ve not verified. I believe so,” based on DiGiovanni’s information. The judge gave DiGiovanni until Friday to transfer the weapons to either his brother or the police.

Referencing ​“significant threats” he has received as a result of reports about his involvement in the riot, he asked the court to provide security at his home for his family. The judge turned down the request.

“Thank you,” DiGiovanni responded. ​“I just wanted that clarification.”

At the request of prosecutor Boyles, the judge barred DiGiovanni from visiting Washington, D.C., except for court purposes.

“I think the evidence that will presented will show that I’m innocent,” DiGiovanni said during a brief press conference afterwards on the courthouse steps.

“He was just a man expressing his views,” said attorney Minnella. ​“He is not a criminal.” He stated that his client had entered the Capitol building when a police officer held open the door.

The case will be heard in the D.C. district court. Minnella said he plans a motion to represent DiGiovanni at a remote hearing planned to take place during the next three weeks.

Like defenders of President Trump in his case, Minnella cast the charges against DiGiovanni as both unfounded and ​“political.”

“Politics and the courts — they do not mix well,” he argued.

He added of his client that ​“a person like this 20 years ago would be a Democrat. Today he’s a Republican. He’s not an elitist. He’s a hard-working business man and family man.”

Courts of public opinion

DiGiovanni spoke openly about his actions at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally and riot in a previous interview with Valley Independent Sentinel Editor Eugene Driscoll. He acknowledged he was part of the crowd that entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. DiGiovanni said he decided to join the march from the rally to the Capitol because he simply decided to follow the crowd. He said he was not going to the Capitol to attack Congress.

YouTube video

Click on the above video to watch the full 55-minute conversation DiGiovanni had with Driscoll about the incident. Click here to read a story about that and his history of civic involvement in Derby.

Since that rally, DiGiovanni has been elected to a seat on the Derby Board of Aldermen. He also serves as Derby’s Republican town chair.

Now he’s running for mayor. He’s running against a fellow Republican, incumbent Mayor Richard Dziekan, a childhood friend. The Republican Town Committee on July 19 endorsed DiGiovanni; Dziekan is challenging him in a primary and plans to run as an independent in the general election.

Mayor Dziekan, who just last week met the Aug. 9 deadline to submit the necessary signatures to force a Republican primary on Sept. 12, said Tuesday he is withholding judgment on the government’s charges against DiGiovanni. 

“I trust the system, innocent until proven guilty,” Dziekan said. ​“The impact beyond that, I’m just not concerned about playing politics right now. I’m laser focused on continuing progress in Derby, in particular getting approval for the purchase and redevelopment of the downtown scrap yard. Unfortunately, Mr. DiGiovanni was one of the six aldermen that voted to block this critical project last week. It certainly makes me question his judgement.”

Dziekan was asked whether Dziekan thinks DiGiovanni should be running for mayor in light of the charges.

“It’s not my call. I leave that up to the voters,” Dziekan responded. ​“The primary is Sept. 12. I leave it in the hands of the voters and what they think about it.”

Asked whether he believes Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, Dziekan said ​“I believe that’s why he’s known as President Biden.”

Registered Republicans in Derby will head to the polls Sept. 12 for a Republican primary to decide which mayoral candidate they want to represent them at the top of the GOP ticket in November.

Democratic mayoral candidate Jospeh DiMartino, who received the unanimous endorsement of the Derby Democratic Town Committee on July 24, has known DiGiovanni since he was a kid, and was his former wrestling coach at Derby High School.

“This is very unfortunate,” DiMartino said. ​“I wish this never happened. Clearly, it’s the wrong way to deal with losing an election. The right way is to learn from mistakes, focus on the public good and give it another try.”

As far as DiGiovanni’s ability to still run for mayor, DiMartino said that’s up to DiGiovanni.

“That is a personal decision that only Gino can make,” DiMartino said. ​“He is the endorsed candidate of his party and I imagine he has some soul searching to do.“

DiMartino was loud and clear in his stance on the 2020 presidential contest. 

“Joe Biden won the election,” he said. ​“It’s long over. He’s the president, and challenges to the election were rejected by more than 60 court cases. Facts matter. We need to respect our democratic process, accept the results and work for progress.”

Attorney Minnella predicted Tuesday that DiGiovanni will win both the primary and general election.

“The people of Derby know the kind of man Gino is,” he said.

This story was first published Aug. 15, 2023 by New Haven Independent.