Man accused of attack on Lee Zeldin now facing federal charge

A Perinton man was arrested Saturday afternoon on a federal charge of assaulting Congressman Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for New York governor, at a campaign event Thursday.

David G. Jakubonis, 43, made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marion W. Payson at the Keating Federal Building in Rochester. He was charged with assaulting a member of Congress using a dangerous weapon and is being held in custody pending a detention hearing on July 27.

Jakubonis had already been arraigned on a state charge of attempted second-degree assault and was released on his own recognizance, according to a news release from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

It is a federal crime under Tile 18, U.S. Code, § 351 to assault a member of Congress. Prosecutors do not have to prove that a defendant knew that the victim was a member of Congress to prove a violation of the law. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Lee Zeldin appears during New York's Republican gubernatorial debate, at the studios of Spectrum News NY, June 20, 2022, in New York.

Zeldin, who was not hurt in the incident, was on stage giving a campaign speech Thursday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8495 in the town of Perinton. Around 8 p.m., the release said, Jakubonis climbed up on the stage, approached Zeldin and swung a weapon at the congressman's neck, saying, "You're done."

Audience members and campaign staffers restrained Jakubonis until deputies led him away. Zeldin then finished his speech.

According to the federal complaint, Jakubonis told investigators with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office that he had been drinking whiskey on the day of the event. He said he did not know who Zeldin was and didn't know that the speaker was a politician, but told investigators he walked up on stage to ask if the speaker was disrespecting veterans.

He told investigators that he was a veteran of the U.S. Army and had served one tour during the Iraq war.

Jakubonis acknowledges that he had a "self-defense key chain" in his hand when he approached Zeldin on stage. Photos included in the complaint show the object in Jakubonis' right hand with two sharp points extended very close to Zeldin's face.

When shown a video of the incident, the complaint says, Jakubonis said that what was depicted in the video was disgusting and that he "must have checked out."

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Video posted online showed a brief but potentially dangerous encounter during the Congressman's speech.

Zeldin had been on a small stage in front of supporters railing against Hochul's COVID-19 response and vaccine mandates. He started comparing New York to other states, such as Texas and Florida, saying residents there are "feeling safer there, they're living life freer," when a man in a gray T-shirt walked on the stage and grabbed Zeldin by the arm, according to a video posted on Facebook.

Zeldin appeared to resist but the man pulled him down to the stage floor, the video shows. Others quickly helped free the congressman and help him back to his feet.

The campaign said Zeldin "grabbed the attacker’s wrist to stop him" until others took the attacker to the ground.

Includes reporting by staff writer Dustin Racioppi

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: David Jakubonis facing federal charge for alleged attack on Lee Zeldin