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Police use of PayPal records under fire after raid on 'Cop City' protest fund trio

Nearly anything can look like money laundering if you squint hard enough

Three supporters of activists against a $90 million police training facility dubbed Cop City were arrested after the cops used PayPal data to bring money-laundering charges against the trio.

Police cuffed 39-year-old Marlon Scott Kautz and 42-year-old Adele Maclean, both of Atlanta, Georgia, and 30-year-old Savannah Patterson, of Savannah, and charged them with money laundering and charity fraud at the end of May. The three, as board members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, help arrange legal advice, bail funds, and other support for those who oppose the southern US state's Cop City and run into trouble with the authorities.

Kautz, Maclean, and Patterson were nabbed by officers in a heavily armed swoop, as you can see below.

The charges against them stemmed "from the ongoing investigation of individuals responsible for numerous criminal acts at the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and other metro Atlanta locations," according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI).

"Agents and officers executed a search warrant and found evidence linking the three suspects to the financial crimes," the state cops added.

This evidence, according to Patterson's arrest warrant [PDF], included reimbursements from the Network for Strong Communities, a state-registered nonprofit, for expenses including "gasoline, forest clean-up, totes, COVID rapid tests, media, yard signs and other miscellaneous expenses." These expenses totaled nearly $7,000 over about two years.

The police somehow obtained and used PayPal records as evidence of those reimbursements. The cops suspect charitable donations to the Network for Strong Communities were passed to Kautz et al, who then used the cash, as board members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, to support those protesting against Cop City. Those protesters included the Defend the Atlanta Forest group, which Homeland Security considers violent domestic extremists, according to the police.

It's said, by the plod, those protests led to criminal damage and arson against public and private buildings, and attacks on officers.

The network states on its website: "We develop initiatives and infrastructure to help communities address the big problems of our society: from climate change to poverty to racial injustice. No matter the problem, we recognize that by caring for each other's needs we are all stronger."

The cops reckon the PayPal-based transfer of financial contributions from the Network for Strong Communities to the Defend the Atlanta Forest, via the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, amounted to money laundering and charity fraud.

"This seizing of PayPal data to charge organizations offering financial and legal support to front line activists is an extremely serious escalation of law enforcement's misuse of financial data," Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

"The militarized SWAT raid on the Atlanta Solidarity Fund is a dire warning for nonprofits and mutual aid funds across the United States," Holland added.

The fund, which provides legal support and bail for people arrested at protests, is a project of the Network for Strong Communities. Most recently, it has provided support for protestors who have been arrested and faced charges as they attempt to stop Atlanta from building Cop City – a massive police training facility – atop the city's Weelaunee Forest. 

In January, one of these protestors, Manuel 'Tortuguita' Esteban Paez Terán, was shot and killed by police. 

"This is only the most recent of a series of violent police retaliations against the movement," according to Defend the Atlanta Forest, which opposes Cop City. "The official narrative is that Cop City is necessary to make Atlanta 'safe,' but this brutal killing reveals what they mean when they use that word."

Fight for the Future has called on Atlanta lawmakers to drop the charges against the trio and vote no on funding Cop City. The digital rights group also wants to see Congress defend protesters' free-speech rights — and the "First Amendment right to code the financial tools for security, safety, and organizing that are so urgently needed in front line activism in the digital age," Holland said.

"The right to build community owned, open source, privacy-preserving alternatives to apps like PayPal must be urgently defended," she added. "The events in Atlanta are the latest illustration of how all of these transactions are one warrant away from being weaponized by any prosecutor in this country in order to suppress activists with abusive legal tactics." ®

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