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Arizona man indicted on federal firearms charges for allegedly planning attack targeting Black people at Atlanta concert

By Dakin Andone and Nick Valencia, CNN

(CNN) — An Arizona man was indicted by a federal grand jury this week on several firearms charges, having been accused by the US Justice Department of planning a mass shooting targeting Black people and other minorities at a May Atlanta concert in hopes of inciting a race war before the upcoming presidential election.

Mark Prieto, 58, had seven guns when he was arrested on May 14 while driving east from Arizona through New Mexico, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona said in a news release Tuesday. He faces charges of firearms trafficking, transfer of a firearm for use in a hate crime and possession of an unregistered firearm, the release said.

The indictment against Prieto alleges he discussed his plans between January and May with two people whom he believed “shared his racist beliefs,” unaware they were working with the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office said. He then sold an AK-style rifle and an AR-style rifle to one of those individuals within the span of a month, all while under FBI surveillance, the release said.

Prieto was targeting a concert scheduled for May 14 and May 15 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, according to a statement of probable cause attached to the federal complaint. While it does not specify whose concert Prieto allegedly targeted, a schedule for the venue shows Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny was slated to perform there on those dates.

After his arrest, Prieto denied he was going to Atlanta, but he did admit to knowing the two people who were working with the FBI, and told agents he had no intentions of carrying out the attack, the federal complaint states. CNN has reached out to Prieto’s public defender in New Mexico for comment.

If convicted, the charges of firearms trafficking and transfer of a firearm for use in a hate crime each carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the US Attorney’s Office said. A conviction for possession of an unregistered firearm carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

Indictment outlines monthslong undercover operation

One of the individuals Prieto confided in was an undercover FBI agent, while the other was a confidential source who’d spoken with Prieto more than a dozen times at different gun shows over the last three years, according to the complaint. That source told the FBI in late 2023 that Prieto had made comments advocating for a mass shooting targeting “blacks, Jews, or Muslims,” the complaint says.

Prieto wanted to carry the shooting out prior to the election in November, the complaint says, because he believed martial law would be in place afterwards, making the attack impossible.

The source and the undercover agent met with Prieto at four different gun shows in each of the months between January and May, the complaint states. At the first, Prieto allegedly shared his plans to carry out a shooting in Atlanta – specifically at a rap concert, the complaint says, because Prieto believed there would be a high concentration of Black people.

Prieto said he was focused on Georgia because of what he perceived as its shifting politics; he attributed this to its Black population, which he referred to using the n-word, the complaint says.

Over the next few months, Prieto allegedly provided more and more detail about his attack, outlining which weapons and types of ammo he wanted the group to use and what they would wear, the complaint shows. He also allegedly expressed a desire to travel to Atlanta prior to the shooting to set up weapon caches.

Prieto wanted to ensure the attack was seen as racially motivated, saying he wanted to leave Confederate flags at the scene and say things like, “whities out here killing,” and “KKK all the way,” according to the complaint. He “also emphasized that the most important thing was a high body count,” the complaint states.

At a fifth gun show in early May, Prieto told the source he was going to leave for Atlanta to conduct reconnaissance and they would meet again at another gun show scheduled for the weekend of June 1, the complaint says.

After being read his Miranda rights on May 14, the complaint says, Prieto denied he was going to Atlanta, telling investigators he was bound for Florida to visit his mother.

He admitted to knowing both the undercover agent and the confidential source and to having discussed an attack at a “rock” concert, the complaint says, but he told agents he did not intend to carry out the attack.

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