Six accused of stealing millions from disabled artists

by: Tom Jones Updated:

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CHAMBLEE, Ga. —

Four former workers and two of their ex-husbands are accused of going on a major spending spree with money stolen from an organization that raises funds to support disabled artists.

According to an indictment, the six are accused of stealing nearly $1.7 million from Mouth & Foot Painting Artists in Chamblee.

Christina Kelly, her daughters Kiante Smith and Tyleshia Avant, a.k.a Tyleshia Smith-Counts, and Tujuana Ross all worked for the organization.

Authorities said those four, along with Kelly's ex-husband, Glen Kelly, and Ross's ex-husband, Rory Ross, all participated in the scheme to steal the money over a five-year period.

Mouth & Foot Painting Artists is an international group in which disabled artists produce artwork and donors send in money for the art. It helps the artists support themselves.

But authorities said the theft put a huge dent in profits for the artists.

"That's just sick. I don't understand how people could sleep at night and do something like that," Denise Larkins said after hearing about the allegations.

Investigators said when donations for the paintings came in, the defendants deposited the money into a fraudulent MFPA bank account they had control over and used the funds for their own pleasure.

The indictment alleges the defendants wrote more than 200 fraudulent checks. Authorities said they paid for trips to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Juan, as well as timeshare properties.

Investigators said they paid for GEICO insurance, paid for pet care at a pet hospital and made purchases at a quick weight loss center.

"Just awful people, man. If that's what they've been doing, that's just an awful person. That's not how you should treat people," DJ Silvernight said.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James sent a statement calling the defendants' actions "truly despicable."

They face racketeering charges under the RICO statute, and theft by taking, identity fraud and money laundering charges. They are all presumed innocent until proven guilty.

A spokesman for Mouth & Foot Painting Artists sent Channel 2 a statement in response to the thefts.

"We were stunned, but we immediately began taking steps to recoup the funds meant for these disabled artists.  We have successfully regained most of the money lost, and have directed it back into the programs that provide financial and moral support for disabled artists. We have already installed additional security measures and will continue our mission of helping our disabled artists," spokesman Bernard Sheehan wrote.