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Prosecutors: ‘NATO 3’ caught plotting on secret recordings

Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune –

Prosecutors confirmed for the first time Monday that three NATO protesters were caught on secret recordings as they allegedly plotted to use Molotov cocktails to blow up political targets during the recent summit in Chicago.

Brent Betterly, 24, Jared Chase, 24, and Brian Church, 20, were each charged in 11-count indictments with conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of explosives and attempted arson after a May 16 raid at the Bridgeport apartment where they were staying in the weeks leading up to the summit.

The men, dubbed the “NATO 3” by supporters, entered not-guilty pleas during a brief hearing Monday before Cook County Criminal Court Judge Thaddeus Wilson. They were dressed in yellow jail jumpsuits, indicating they are being held in protective custody. About 20 supporters stood in the courtroom gallery with their fists in the air as the defendants were led into the cramped courtroom.

Before the hearing, prosecutors turned over 372 pages of discovery related to the investigation, including information about a “consensual overhear” — typically audio recordings made via hidden device — approved by a Cook County judge May 4, about two weeks before the arrests.

According to the charges, police found four Molotov cocktails inside the apartment that the defendants — who are members of an anarchist group known as Black Bloc — intended to use to firebomb targets such as police stations, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and President Barack Obama’s downtown campaign headquarters.

As the three men were led back to the lockup after their arraignment, several supporters erupted in cheers. One Occupy Chicago volunteer, Thomas Rainey, 45, held a handmade sign of support against the glass partition separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom. The judge ordered the sign confiscated and had Rainey brought before the bench.

“I’m not going to hold you in contempt of court this time,” Wilson said. “But I absolutely won’t tolerate that again. Do not bring any signs into my courtroom.”

“I understand,” Rainey said.

Outside court, defense attorneys reiterated their allegations that two police informants entrapped the men into going along with the alleged plot and that prosecutors filed trumped-up terrorism charges to justify the millions of dollars spent on security for the NATO summit.

Attorney Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office said there is still a lot of evidence that prosecutors need to turn over in the coming weeks.

“We need to know everything that was done to set these guys up,” Deutsch told reporters.

Church, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Chase, of Keene, N.H.; and Betterly, of Oakland, Fla., are each being held on $1.5 million bond. The judge set a tentative trial date for July 22, 2013.

Two other alleged members of Black Bloc face unrelated charges stemming from the investigation. Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, accused of making a false terrorist threat, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. Mark Neiweem, 28, charged with attempting to build a pipe bomb, is due in court later this month.

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