CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers for three activists with ties to South Florida who traveled to Chicago for a NATO summit and have accused of manufacturing Molotov cocktails in a plot to attack President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters and other targets say the charges against them are trumped up to frighten peaceful protestors.
The men have been identified as Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale; Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park and Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H. who had recently participated in the Occupy movement in South Florida.
The men’s defense lawyers told a judge that it actually undercover officers known by the activists as “Mo” and “Gloves” who brought the firebombs to a South Side apartment where the men were arrested.
“This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear,” Michael Deutsch said. “My clients came to peacefully protest.”
Prosecutors said the men were self-described anarchists who boasted weeks earlier about the damage they would do in Chicago, including one who declared, “After NATO, the city will never be the same.”
At one point, one of the suspects asked the others if they had ever seen a “cop on fire.”
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy dismissed the idea that the arrests were anything more than an effort to stop “an imminent threat.”
“When someone was in the position (of having) Molotov cocktails — that’s pretty imminent,” he said. “It was not a completed investigation.”
The men allegedly bought fuel at a gas station for the makeshift bombs, poured it into beer bottles and cut up bandanas to serve as fuses.
If convicted on all counts — conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives — the men could get up to 85 years in prison.
Outside the courtroom, Deutsch said the two undercover police officers or informants were also arrested during the Wednesday raid, and defense attorneys later lost track of the two.
“We believe this is all a setup and entrapment to the highest degree,” Deutsch said.
The suspects were each being held on $1.5 million bond. Six others arrested Wednesday in the raid were released Friday without being charged.
The three who remained in custody apparently came to Chicago late last month to take part in May Day protests. Relatives and acquaintances said the men were wanderers who bounced around as part of the Occupy movement and had driven together from Florida to Chicago, staying with other activists.
Court records indicated no prior violent behavior.
Documents filed by prosecutors in support of the charges in Chicago painted an ominous portrait of the men, saying the trio also discussed using swords, hunting bows and knives with brass-knuckle handles in their attacks.
Relatives and acquaintances painted a starkly different picture.
Activist Bill Vassilakis, who said he let the men stay in his apartment, described Betterly as an industrial electrician who had volunteered to help with wiring at The Plant, a former meatpacking facility that has been turned into a food incubator with the city’s backing.
“All I can say about that is, if you knew Brent, you would find that to be the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard. He was the most stand-up guy that was staying with me. He and the other guys had done nothing but volunteer their time and energy,” he said.
Betterly appears to have a history of minor run-ins with law enforcement.
Earlier this year, he was cited for disorderly intoxication in February in Miami-Dade County, Fla., but the case has been dismissed, according to online court records.
Authorities in Oakland Park, Fla., said Betterly and two other young men walked into a public high school last fall after a night of tequila drinking and took a swim in the pool, according to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
They stole fire extinguishers from three school buses, discharged one and smashed a cafeteria window with another. The vandalism caused about $2,000 in damage. Betterly was charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief, the newspaper said.
Chase grew up in Keene, N.H., and moved to Boston a few years ago before becoming active in the Occupy movement, said his aunt, Barbara Chase.
She said she was stunned to learn of the charges against her nephew.
“That surprised me because he’s not that dumb,” said Barbara Chase. “He always seemed harmless, but who knows? Outside influences sometimes can sway people to do things that they normally wouldn’t do.”
Elsewhere around Chicago, a fourth person was charged with terrorism. Twenty four year old Sebastian Senakiewicz of Chicago’s Northwest Side was charged with conspiring to build a Molotov cocktail to be used during the NATO Summit. Police arrested Senakiewicz about 4:15 p.m. Thursday at his home.
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