Three men charged after going on an arson spree through metro Atlanta

ATLANTA — Federal prosecutors have arrested three men accused of going on an arson spree through metro Atlanta.

Prosecutors nailed them for burning five U.S. postal trucks.

But as Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne uncovered, prosecutors say they may be connected to several other crimes.

A lead prosecutor on the case said the men’s motive is not entirely clear but evidence gathered in an investigation by ATF, the FBI and others suggest the men’s actions may have been intended as a political protest against the 2020 election.

“When people utilize arson as a means to terrorize communities, then ATF will investigate as we did here,” ATF special agent-in-charge Ben Gibbons said.

U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said an arson investigation led by ATF, assisted by the FBI and others, found two of the suspects through social media posts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Hobson says Ellie Melvin Brett, John Wesley Wade and Vida Messiah Jones all pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to federal time for a conspiracy charge linked to the arson of five U.S. Postal Service vehicles in the fall of 2020. Brett and Wade were sentenced to 5 years in prison, while Jones was sentenced to time served.

“All of them received federal imprisonment and have been ordered to pay restitution,” Erskine said.

Hobson said that while the arson of the postal service property qualified for federal jurisdiction, the investigation and court records showed a series of other actions near the same period that include the arson of two MARTA police vehicles each at a separate location.


Winne found a Twitter post saying, “A MARTA police SUV was set on fire in Ashby Train Station,” along with the arson and vandalism of two East Point public works vehicles.

Winne also found a Twitter post mentioning “East Point City Hall blaze.”

Hobson said a video of Brett and Wade that Channel 2 found on Instagram was posted the day a brick was thrown at an Atlanta police car window — one of two incidents involving APD cars.

He says about an hour after the first APD incident, a brick was thrown through a Wells Fargo bank window.

Hobson said Brett and Wade were allegedly linked to all the incidents, and Jones to some of them.

He said when each of the incidents occurred, Wade was wearing an ankle monitor as a condition of bond in connection with a Fulton County case involving the arson of the Wendy’s near which the controversial Rayshard Brooks shooting took place, to which Wade pleaded not guilty to.

“We could match up the GPS location information with all seven locations to show that he was at all these incidents,” Hobson said.

Wade’s lawyer, Leif Howard, said Wade acknowledged in court that he had videoed the postal incident but did not light fires, nor did he have any connection to the other incidents.

Attorney Esther Panitch told Winne that Brett, her client, only acknowledged his guilt in connection with the postal incident, not the others.

“It’s important that exercising your First Amendment rights, that people do so lawfully,” Erskine said.

Hobson said the man with the gas can is alleged to be Jones.

Again, the trio was only charged federally with the postal incident on federal property.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her office is reviewing the smashed APD police vehicle windows, arson of a MARTA police vehicle, arson and vandalism of city of East Point vehicles, and vandalism and arson of a second MARTA police vehicle. The district attorney’s office has also assigned these cases to a prosecutor for possible state-level charges.