Two women from California who were seen on footage of the Capitol riot together in a room of the building that an FBI affidavit says riot participants could only access through a broken window were recently arrested and are now facing several federal criminal charges.
The charges, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, include entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. The rioters facing these charges in a joint complaint include Michelle Estey and Melanie Belger. Investigators zeroed in on the two Californians through means including examinations of cell data covering areas including the inside of the Capitol during the violence and tips from associates of both.
Legal notices served to telecommunications providers eventually revealed phone numbers associated with both Estey and Belger were in use around the Capitol during the riot. For Estey, a tip came in last June that said, in part: “During a dinner with friends,… they revealed that their friend, Michelle Estey, was amongst the people that stormed and entered the Capitol Building on Jan 6th of this year… Michelle Estey is married to Jim Estey, they live in Newport Beach, CA.” It also linked to her personal Facebook page. Although the portion of the tip provided in a court filing in Estey’s case excluded certain details, it sounds like someone close to the Esteys let info about Michelle’s involvement in the riot slip during dinner “with friends,” and she’s now facing charges, although investigators were already on her trail because of the cell data, which the tip seemingly helped agents with connecting to the real-life Estey in Newport Beach.
Once they found her, an agent attempted an interview, which Estey refused without an attorney. A “longtime family friend” identified Estey for investigators in an image of the riot during a December 2021 interview, according to the court filing. The FBI received a tip about Belger the day after the riot consisting of screenshots of remarks she made on Facebook documenting her involvement. In one comment provided to federal investigators, she said: “Back at hotel! Was in the Capitol im safe.. Pence= NOT SAFE.” Belger was on camera in the Capitol room she accessed and exited during the riot through a broken window with an empty bottle of rum. In another interview conducted last December with someone who formerly worked with Belger, she was also positively identified in an image from amid the chaos. A court filing in another case from the riot says the room both entered during the riot is “commonly known as the Senator’s Hideaway Office.”