Three people have been charged with fraud and money laundering in connection with funds raised to support opposition against Atlanta’s planned public safety training center, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
SWAT, uniform officers and crime scene investigators from the Atlanta Police Department executed a search warrant Wednesday morning at a home owned by Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, and Adele Maclean, 42, on Mayson Avenue. Known as the Teardown House, it is covered in art, and slogans such as “Cop Watch,” “No Cops,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Kautz and Maclean — along with Savannah D. Patterson, 30, of Savannah — were each charged with single counts of money laundering and charity fraud for alleged actions taken as executives with the nonprofit Network for Strong Communities, which in turn support the nonprofit Defend the Atlanta Forest, “a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as Domestic Violent Extremists,” according to arrest warrants.
According to Secretary of State records, Maclean serves as the CEO, Kautz as the CFO and Patterson as the secretary for Network for Strong Communities, which was formed in August 2020 and the principal office address is the home on Mayson Avenue. The three were booked at the DeKalb County Jail.
Arrest warrants obtained from the GBI show the most serious charge of money laundering allegedly involved $48,000, transferred from Network for Strong Communities to an organization identified as Siskiyou Mutual Aid “the day after NFSC was mentioned as a funding source (for protesters) during a court hearing.”
Siskiyou Mutual Aid then returned the money “appearing to launder the funds,” according to the affidavit.
The fraud allegations involve Kautz, Maclean and Patterson reimbursing themselves for various expenses from contributions made to the nonprofit, including $29 for a safe; $37 for building materials; $115 in camping gear; $228 for adding “jail support” phone lines; $436 for expenses related to a town hall meeting; and a total of 6,657 for a variety of items such as gasoline, forest clean-up materials, totes, COVID rapid tests and yard signs.
According to the arrest warrants, the Defend the Atlanta Forest group is responsible for numerous acts of violence surrounding the training center site, including vandalism, throwing Molotov cocktails at police and arson of public buildings and equipment.
Opponents of the training center said the three are part of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, an organization founded in 2016 that provides monetary and legal support for those arrested during protests.
Gov. Brian Kemp issued a statement applauding the work by the GBI, APD and other state and local agencies in the arrests. Kemp said law enforcement has been working for months in arresting those involved in violence at the training site.
“Today, we’re proud to share that those who backed their illegal actions are also under arrest and will face justice,” Kemp said. “These criminals facilitated and encouraged domestic terrorism with no regard for others, watching as communities faced the destructive consequences of their actions.”
The arrests brought swift condemnation from opponents of the training center.
“This is targeting of organizers and movements by the police and the state,” Kamau Franklin, of Community Movement Builders, said in a statement. “Bail funds have been a part of organizing the Civil Rights movement and labor movement. We will continue to fight back against Cop City and the political arrest of our friends and comrades.”
In a statement, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the arrests were “about the violence that occurred at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and elsewhere.”
“As we have said before, we will not rest until we have held accountable every person who has funded, organized or participated in this violence and intimidation,” Carr, whose agency is jointly prosecuting the case with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement.
The Southern Center for Human Rights said in a statement they plan to continue to support “the human dignity inherent in the right to political dissent.”
“It’s ironic that Atlanta, a city whose Civil Rights heroes turned to bail funds after their repeated arrests, now supports human rights violations by attacking a bail fund in its latest effort to manufacture consent for cop city,” the statement says. “If anything, these arrests and attendant prosecutions show the dangerous ways law enforcement can be wielded to weaponize political rhetoric and criminalize the very legacy of civil disobedience our city leadership exploits.”
State Reps. Ruwa Romman and Saira Draper expressed concern that the arrests set a bad precedent.
“Are we going to see attacks on abortion funds, on bail funds, other types of funds that provide resources for those attempting to navigate our increasingly expensive and complicated legal system?” Romman said to the AJC.
In a tweet, State Senator Josh McLaurin, D-Atlanta, expressed similar concern.
“I am ... working to learn the specific basis for these charges,” McLaurin tweeted. “What we can’t tolerate is any use of the criminal legal system to disrupt or chill lawful protest. If that’s what’s happening, I’m going to be loud about it.”
Atlanta councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, who has been an outspoken critic of the training center, said in a tweet: “Given the heightened state of tension throughout our community related to the Public Safety Training Center, this action deserves the utmost scrutiny and sensitivity as it moves through the legal process.”
The arrests come three months after 23 people were charged March 5 with domestic terrorism by the GBI for allegedly throwing large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at officers guarding the site. Most of those arrested have been granted bond. Two were denied bond last week.
A condition of bond for some of them include having no contact with the Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement.
At least seven others were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in January.
The weighty domestic terrorism charges, which can carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison, are at least in part supported by each suspect’s alleged involvement with the Defend the Atlanta Forest organization.
During a protest after Georgia State Patrol troopers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, Kautz warned the media and others not to accept the police version of Teran’s death and vowed his organization would “pursue a vigorous legal strategy and investigation of (Teran’s) killing.”
“I just want to urge people to not allow this repression to give you fear, and to keep doing what you’re doing,” Kautz said at the January protest.
During Mayor Andre Dickens’ State of the City address in March, Kautz was one of the activists who spoke in an adjacent conference room voicing concerns about the proposed training center. Kautz said they’ve witnessed law enforcement hindering the right to protest, be it in the forest or elsewhere.
Next week, the Atlanta City Council will vote on legislation to fund $30 million of the training center construction, plus an additional $1.2 million over 30 years to lease the center for training. Construction on the property is ongoing, with Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum expecting to move into the facility by December 2024.
The National Bail Fund Network, a coalition of 90 local community-based bail and bond funds that free people from local jails and immigration detention centers, is collecting donations for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund on a temporary basis. All funds raised will be used to support bail and legal defense funds of those being arrested and prosecuted in Atlanta, according to the organization.
“I strongly condemn this attack on Atlanta organizers upholding people’s basic right to dissent. Community bail funds have existed in different ways for as long as people have been arrested and prosecuted in this country,” Pilar Weiss, director of Community Justice Exchange and one of the founders of the National Bail Fund Network, said in a release. “Georgia’s Attorney General is going after these organizers as the ultimate political stunt.”