Defense team in Whitmer kidnap plot case asks judge to toss indictment

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

The indictment against five men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should be dismissed due to “egregious overreaching” by federal agents and informants, defense lawyers wrote in a coordinated attempt to scuttle the high-profile case three months before trial.

According to the filing, FBI agents and federal prosecutors capitalized on discontent with Whitmer's handling of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, invented a conspiracy and entrapped five people who face up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping conspiracy in a case that has shed light on violent extremism in Michigan.

The 20-page motion, filed Christmas night by all five defense lawyers, asks U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker to dismiss the conspiracy charge. The move would effectively dismantle the government's case and remaining charges, which are intertwined and based on the conspiracy charge, the lawyers wrote.

The request follows a stream of allegations and developments about the government's team involved in the case. That included the convictions of FBI Special Agent Richard Trask, the government's public face of the investigation who was arrested on a domestic violence charge and later fired and convicted of a misdemeanor; and informant Stephen Robeson, who was dropped by the FBI after being caught illegally possessing a sniper rifle.

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"Essentially, the evidence here demonstrates egregious overreaching by the government’s agents, and by the informants those agents handled," defense lawyers wrote. "When the government was faced with evidence showing that the defendants had no interest in a kidnapping plot, it refused to accept failure and continued to push its plan."

The request comes ahead of a March 8 trial in federal court in Grand Rapids. The five charged with kidnapping conspiracy are: Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville; Barry Croft, 46, of Bear, Delaware; Kaleb Franks, 27, of Waterford; Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion; and Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township.

FBI agents raided this secluded camp near the village of Luther, Michigan on October 7, 2020. The camp was allegedly used by militia members for planning, explosives detonation, and other weapons training in connection with a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

A sixth man, Ty Garbin, 26, of Hartland Township, pleaded guilty and is serving a six-year, federal prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors have insisted the men were not entrapped.

“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," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in an earlier filing.

Defense lawyers Saturday said there was no kidnapping conspiracy.

"...the government initiated this case, despite the fact that it knew there was no plan to kidnap, no operational plan, and no details about how a kidnapping would occur or what would happen afterward," the lawyers wrote.

Informants were the driving force in a case, cultivating a "sense of patriotism and right-doing," before FBI agents arrested the men in October 2020, according to the defense team.

"...informants, of course, not only contacted the defendants face to face but also coaxed, persuaded, cajoled, played on sympathies, cultivated friendships, took advantage of the defendants’ financial conditions, and suggested that the offense they proposed 'would further a greater good,'" the lawyers wrote.

"These defendants had no desire whatsoever to kidnap anyone," they added.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews