Second Whitmer kidnap plotter to plead guilty, court records show – The Detroit News

A second member of an alleged plot to kidnap and hurt Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has agreed to plead guilty, giving federal prosecutors two key insiders to fight defense claims of entrapment during next month’s trial, according to a federal court filing Monday.
Waterford Township resident Kaleb Franks, 27, is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday to kidnapping conspiracy, which is punishable by up to life in federal prison, according to a plea deal filed in court Monday that reveals new details about how accused plotters focused their attention on Michigan’s governor.
Franks was scheduled to stand trial March 8 in federal court in Grand Rapids alongside four others. A sixth man, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty last year and is serving a six-year prison sentence.
The deal, which requires Franks to cooperate with federal investigators and testify, includes a section aimed at fighting an expected entrapment defense during next month’s trial. The section describes how Franks learned after he was arrested in October 2020 that the FBI used undercover agents and as many as a dozen informants.
“The defendant was not entrapped or induced to commit any crimes by these individuals,” the plea deal reads.
The four scheduled to stand trial are: Potterville resident Adam Fox, Delaware truck driver Barry Croft, Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris and Canton Township resident Brandon Caserta. Eight others are facing state charges.
“The defendant also knows Fox, Croft, Harris and Caserta were not entrapped, based on personal observation and discussions,” the plea deal reads.
For example, the group’s alleged ringleaders, Fox and Croft, initiated discussions about kidnapping Whitmer, prosecutors wrote.
The section appears aimed at proving the defendants were predisposed to committing the crime, a requirement needed in order to secure convictions at trial.
“The defendant also heard Harris and Caserta express similar anti-government sentiments during his private discussions with them, when no government informant was present,” the plea deal reads. “During all their months of training together, the defendant never heard Fox, Croft, Harris, or Caserta say they were doing anything because (informant) Dan, (informant) Steve, or any other informant had advocated it.”
The plea deal was filed less than a week after an adverse ruling for defense teams. Among other orders, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said jurors can be told about Franks’ conviction for second-degree home invasion.
Prosecutors asked permission to divulge the rap sheets of multiple defendants to help establish a predisposition to kidnapping Whitmer and rebut an anticipated defense that undercover FBI agents and informants entrapped the men.
“The pressure is really on the defendants. Most likely, this is their last chance to see what the best deal is before trial,” said Detroit defense attorney Michael Bullotta, a former federal prosecutor. “Deals generally get worse, not better, the longer you wait.”
In the plea agreement filed Monday, prosecutors charted Franks’ growing involvement with members of a group that has focused attention on extremism fueled by opposition to state restrictions imposed by Whitmer during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the plea agreement, Franks will admit to conspiring with four others from June 2020 to October 2020.
Franks connected with members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a Michigan militia, through a Facebook firearms group in spring 2020, was invited to a protest in Lake Orion and met Harris, according to the plea deal.
Harris invited him to join the militia’s chat group on the encrypted Wire application, according to the government.
“The defendant understood they were using encrypted communications to conceal discussion of illegal activity from law enforcement,” the plea deal reads.
Defense lawyers have argued there was no kidnapping conspiracy and that undercover FBI agents and informants entrapped the men.
Franks passed a vetting process and started attending meetings and firearms training. In late June 2020, he attended a tactical training in Munith and met Fox, an alleged ringleader.
During a July meeting in Milford, the accused plotters discussed a proposal to “black bag politicians,” according to the court filing.
“The defendant and Harris thought the plan wouldn’t work at that time, but later changed their minds,” the plea agreement reads. “The group agreed that it remained an ‘open discussion’ as to when exactly it was appropriate to launch aggressive measures against the government.”
Later that month during tactical training in Wisconsin, Franks met Croft, prosecutors wrote in the court filing. Croft, who is portrayed as the group’s bombmaker and second ringleader, brought an assault rifle and projectile launcher to the training session.
“Croft discussed modifying legal projectiles to launch explosive devices,” according to the plea deal. “Croft also brought materials for constructing improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) using gunpowder and BBs as shrapnel. Croft and Harris assembled two IEDs, which they unsuccessfully attempted to detonate.”
The plea deal describes how the accused plotters focused their attention on Whitmer.
The group attended a regional militia meeting on July 18 in Ohio during which several ideas were discussed. Croft proposed bombing Michigan State Police posts, according to the filing.
Fox suggested storming the state Capitol with snipers and 200 men armed with machine guns, prosecutors wrote.
“The defendant and Garbin believed that plan was not feasible with the group’s available manpower, training and equipment,” the plea deal reads. “Fox also proposed kidnapping (Whitmer) from other locations as an alternative. Fox and Croft discussed waiting until the upcoming election, when they thought law enforcement resources would be spread thin responding to civil unrest.”
The Capitol proposal was discarded during a July 23 meeting at Harris’ home in Lake Orion, prosecutors alleged. That’s when the plan to kidnap Whitmer crystallized, according to the plea deal.
“The defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined that plan,” prosecutors wrote.
The plot intensified in August when Fox conducted daytime surveillance of the governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan and sent photographs of the house to other members of the alleged plot, prosecutors wrote.
Inside alleged Whitmer plotters’ training site: shotgun shells, human silhouettes
In mid-September 2020, Franks traveled to a remote camp in Luther owned by Garbin and helped him build a firing range and training outpost for the kidnap plotters, prosecutors wrote. They used construction equipment to build the firing range and Franks acquired hundreds of used tires from a tire shop.
“The defendants constructed a ‘shoot house’ and used it to practice breaching a residence with firearms,” the plea deal reads. “Fox and Croft said it would serve as a ‘mockup’ of the governor’s home.”
The camp served as the staging post for a nighttime surveillance run at Whitmer’s vacation home. Franks rode with others in a three-car convoy, but could not pinpoint the home with certainty, according to the plea deal.
That’s because Fox, who was derisively nicknamed “Captain Autism” by other members of the group, juxtaposed numbers in the governor’s address, prosecutors wrote.


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