Snatching Whitmer a suicide mission, convicted kidnap plotter testifies

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A second convicted member of a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said he viewed the plan as a suicide mission and expected to die in a shootout with police.

Waterford Township resident Kaleb Franks testified in federal court in Grand Rapids as one of the government's star witnesses against four men standing trial, accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan's governor. 

Franks followed testimony spread over two days from convicted plotter Ty Garbin of Hartland Township as defense lawyers tried to undercut the impact of the government's witnesses. Their testimony during the ninth day of the trial was intended to show the plot was real and counter defense arguments that members willingly participated and were not entrapped by FBI agents or informants.

Franks, 27, a peer recovery coach at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, said the group was upset with Whitmer and government intrusion during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Why did you agree to kidnap the governor?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth asked.

Kaleb Franks

"I was hoping I would be killed in the process," Franks said. "I no longer wanted to live."

Franks testified he was struggling financially and wasn't happy after the deaths of his mother, stepfather and stepbrother.

"Why did you believe this plan, this conspiracy, would lead to you dying?" the prosecutor asked.

"I thought that it was a very risky choice," Franks said. "I mean, getting in a shootout with police, you're bound to die."

Franks testified one month after pleading guilty for plotting to kidnap Whitmer. In pleading guilty to kidnapping conspiracy, a felony punishable by up to life in federal prison, Franks said that the group conceived of the plot, an admission designed to combat an entrapment defense by lawyers who have raised questions about the conduct of FBI agents and informants.

On Thursday, Franks identified the four defendants on trial and said all were part of the kidnap plot. They are: Potterville resident Adam Fox, 38; Barry Croft, 46, of Delaware; Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris, 24, and Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township. 

The four men standing trial in the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy case: (Clockwise from left): Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris.

They face up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping conspiracy.

Franks is awaiting sentencing.

He admitted to lying to investigators after being arrested in October 2020 before later admitting his involvement.

"Do you hope to gain anything from testifying here at trial?" Roth asked.

"The lowest sentence possible," Franks said.

Earlier Thursday, defense lawyers attacked Garbin's credibility, suggesting he was a lying snitch and that there was no real plot, just half-baked talk about abducting Whitmer and leaving her stranded in Lake Michigan.

"So this boat that was going to be left in the middle of the lake: who's boat?" Croft's lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, asked.

"It wasn't decided," Garbin said.

Ty Garbin

"What kind of boat did you have?" the lawyer asked.

"A 14-foot rowboat," Garbin said.

"You offered a rowboat for the kidnap?" the lawyer asked.

Garbin said his boat's engine did not work and that it was possible the group would find or steal another boat.

"When you get this boat and drop the motor, how are you guys getting off the lake?" Blanchard asked.

"That wasn't figured out," Garbin said.

Garbin, who is awaiting transfer to federal prison to serve a 75-month sentence, faced questions about his motivation for testifying against the four defendants.

"You know you're going to prison, right?" Blanchard asked. "As a snitch, right? You don't want to do that."

"I do what I have to do," Franks said.

"You're scared about it," Blanchard said.

"Not really," Garbin said.

"You want to do as little time as possible. Fair?" the lawyer asked.

"That would be fair," Garbin said.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews