Judge rules feds did not entrap three men charged in Whitmer kidnap plot

A Jackson County judge Tuesday denied a motion to dismiss the criminal cases against three men accused in a plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer because their lawyers had argued the FBI entrapped their clients. 

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wilson said an FBI investigation, which involved the use of an informant identified in court only as Dan, did not "escalate" the alleged plot by the Michigan-based militia Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Whitmer.

The alleged plot, which prosecutors have said was spawned over anger over Whitmer's COVID-19 policies and mandates at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was foiled in October of 2020.

Three men, Paul Bellar, 23, of Milford, Joseph Morrison, 27, and his father-in-law Pete Musico, 44, both from Munith, are expected to face trial in September.

“I just cannot, in reviewing this matter, (see) that the government … somehow pressured any one of these individuals to participate in anything, or to get in line with this way of thinking,” Wilson said, referring to ideology espoused by the Wolverine Watchmen. “That was the very reason that we got the confidential informant in the very beginning was as soon as he had joined the group and learned that they were talking about harming police officers and potentially politicians that he contacted the FBI because of his concern out of what potentially could happen.”

“Dan” initially turned down the FBI’s request to help, Wilson said.

“They asked him if he would reconsider,” Wilson said. “He did.”

Wilson set a trial date for Sept. 12. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 8.

Bellar, Morrison and Musico are facing trial on charges of gang membership and providing material support for terrorism, both punishable by up to 20 years in prison, as well as felony firearm, punishable by up to two years in prison.

They are accused of aiding six others who are charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer, including two men who pleaded guilty and four who are scheduled to stand trial on March 8 in Grand Rapids. Five more are also charged in state courts. 

Kareem Johnson, Musico's attorney, said Tuesday he was disappointed with the ruling but that "fortunately a jury will have the final say so."

Johnson said he and his client "already acknowledged during testimony" that Musico did have an interest in meeting Adam Fox, one of the so-called leaders of the alleged plot but changed his mind before the FBI informant "vouched" for Fox.

Morrison's attorney Nicholas Somberg said the judge's ruling Tuesday "was not unexpected" adding that his client also was not surprised by it.

"You gotta be pretty courageous to dismiss that type of case," said Somberg Tuesday. "Obviously there's a huge investigation. It's national news. By dismissing based on entrapment you're basically going against the governor herself, the attorney general and the FBI. "

"I'm still very confident in (the) trial. They're not charged with plotting. They're charged with providing material support to a plot. The evidence shows that there's no material support. " 

Bellar's lawyer, Andrew Kirkpatrick, also expressed disappointment in Tuesday's ruling but is confident in the judge's handling of the case.

Kirkpatrick said while an entrapment defense is "difficult to prove" his client did not participate in any plans to support a plot to kidnap Whitmer.

"I don't see a Jackson County jury convicting my client of materially supporting a terrorist act," said Kirkpatrick. "He wasn't involved in any of it. He was in the state of South Carolina at the time."


The Associated Press contributed.