FBI informant talked about torching Virginia governor's home, feds reveal

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

An FBI informant, credited with helping thwart a plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and another man were recorded talking about torching the home of the Virginia governor, a federal prosecutor revealed Tuesday.

Additional details were not available, but prosecutors have earlier said members of an alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer also talked about leaving her in the middle of Lake Michigan and "taking out" a second politician, former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

Video released by federal prosecutors shows Brandon Caserta and others accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer training with firearms.

The new allegation emerged as prosecutors and lawyers for five men accused of plotting to kidnap and harm Whitmer argued Tuesday about evidence that could be shown to jurors at trial in March. During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker signaled he was unlikely to grant a pending defense request to dismiss a kidnapping conspiracy case that has focused attention on violent extremism in Michigan. 

The new Virginia allegation surfaced Tuesday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said an informant known as "Dan" talked with a man during a recorded conversation about "a plan to set fire to the house of the governor of Virginia."

The FBI investigation spanned most of 2020 when the Virginia governor was Northam and included allegations that Waterford resident Kaleb Franks, Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta of Canton Township discussed "taking out" governors for their handling of pandemic lockdown orders.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in September 2020.

During the hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids, defense lawyers argued over whether jurors will be shown 258 recordings and text messages involving statements by FBI agents, informants and defendants. Defense lawyers believe the statements will bolster their strategy that there was no conspiracy to abduct Whitmer and that investigators and confidential sources entrapped men facing up to life in prison if convicted in the kidnap case. 

Prosecutors have asked the judge to prevent jurors from seeing the evidence, arguing the statements are either hearsay or irrelevant and inadmissible and a way to avoid defendants from testifying and facing cross-examination.

Jonker did not rule on whether jurors will be shown the messages and hear recordings but said the request is common in conspiracy cases.

"The general reaction is if you want to put (the evidence) in, take the stand and testify," Jonker said. "You don’t get to smuggle it in otherwise."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December 2021.

The evidence includes statements by defendants and Wisconsin informant Stephen Robeson who was dropped by the government and charged with a federal crime after the convicted felon bought a sniper rifle. Prosecutors say Robeson was a double agent who offered to use a drone to commit domestic terrorism and use charity money to finance attacks.

In the Whitmer case, five men face a range of federal charges, including kidnapping and weapons of mass destruction conspiracies, and face up to life in prison if convicted. Another eight people have been charged in state court with crimes related to the kidnapping plot and threats to overthrow the government. 

Ty Garbin of Hartland Township pleaded guilty to kidnap conspiracy and is serving a six-year sentence in federal prison. He is expected to be the government's star witness at trial.


Twitter: @robertsnellnews