Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plotter deserves break, feds say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A Hartland Township man who admitted plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer  deserves a break for providing an insider’s view of a kidnapping conspiracy that involved weapons of mass destruction, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Ty Garbin, 25, should be credited for recounting conversations and criminal acts that happened outside the presence of at least a dozen informants and undercover FBI agents and for confirming the kidnapping plot was real, not merely tough talk, prosecutors said.

Ty Garbin, 25, should be credited for recounting conversations and criminal acts that happened outside the presence of at least a dozen informants and undercover FBI agents and for confirming the kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was real, not merely tough talk, prosecutors said.

“Third, he dispelled any suggestion that the conspirators were entrapped by government informants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in a court filing Wednesday. “Months before any of them began suggesting it in pretrial motions, Garbin testified that (Barry) Croft and (Adam) Fox were the ringleaders of the plot, and that he and the other conspirators joined it willfully.”

Garbin pleaded guilty in January, securing the first conviction in a high-profile case involving violent extremism in Michigan. Advisory guidelines call for up to 17 ½ years in federal prison. Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker to sentence Garbin on Aug. 25 to nine years in prison.

Garbin is the only person out of 14 people charged in connection with the kidnapping plot to plead guilty. Five others charged alongside Garbin in federal court are awaiting trial in October and mounting a defense that involves arguing they were entrapped by federal agents. There was no kidnapping plot, defense lawyers have argued.

Garbin’s cooperation is ongoing and has involved testifying twice in front of a grand jury and he provided details about conspirators' plans to use improvised explosive devices to aid the kidnapping plot, prosecutors wrote. His testimony led to an April indictment against three co-conspirators who face a range of charges, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Garbin's assistance comes despite “significant risk” as he awaits sentencing in federal court in Grand Rapids, prosecutors added.

“The prison system, however, is filled with other parties motivated to harm him. These include boogaloo adherents and sympathizers, who might attack him for ideological reasons. Others may want to enhance their own status or reputation by assaulting a cooperator in a nationally high-profile case. In short, Garbin willingly put a target on his back to begin his own redemption.”

'Eager to help deradicalize'

Garbin, an aviation mechanic, deserves a significant break because he demonstrated “extraordinary acceptance of responsibility” and overcome an abusive upbringing, defense lawyer Gary Springstead wrote in a sentencing memorandum Wednesday.

The defense memo portrays Garbin as being committed to completing deradicalization treatment. He is “eager to help deradicalize others involved in extremism at the conclusion of this case,” his lawyer wrote.

Garbin became involved in the plot during the COVID-19 pandemic after becoming frustrated with state-mandated shutdowns. He was earning $28 per hour but his pay was cut in half, leaving him earning less than if he was receiving enhanced unemployment pay, his lawyer wrote.

He became involved with a Facebook group of extremists called the Wolverine Watchmen.

“Mr. Garbin and his co-conspirators eventually coalesced around the idea of taking on the person responsible for the shutdown: the Governor,” his lawyer wrote.

The group eventually agreed to kidnap Whitmer before federal agents arrested Garbin and others in October, Springstead wrote.

“To this day, Mr. Garbin cannot say for certain whether he would have followed through with the plot or not,” the lawyer wrote. “Fortunately, it was foiled and nobody was hurt.”

The FBI portrayed Garbin in court filings as a willing participant in planning an attack on Whitmer at her vacation home in northern Michigan, hosting training sessions at his rural property in Luther and helping build an improvised explosive device comprised of black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel.

He used emojis in one private chat while suggesting blowing up a bridge near the vacation property to hinder law enforcement and joined a nighttime surveillance run at the governor’s vacation home, according to the FBI.

Prosecutors accused Garbin of training for an attack to overthrow the government, and suggested “shooting up the governor’s vacation home,” according to FBI Special Agent Richard Trask.

“He said he was ‘cool’ with going after the governor’s vacation home, however, even if it only resulted in destruction of property,” the agent wrote in an affidavit. “Garbin offered to paint his personal boat black to support the surveillance of the vacation home from the lake where the vacation home is situated.”

Trask was arrested last month and charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder following a domestic incident with his wife.

He is accused of smashing his wife's head against a nightstand and choking her after a dispute stemming from their attendance at a swingers' party, according to court records.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews