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Watch the traffic stop that led alleged kidnapping plotter to target Canton police, feds say

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

One of the men charged in connection with allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had also discussed targeting Canton Township police who recently pulled him over, an FBI agent testified this week.

The revelation came during a bond hearing Tuesday at federal court in Grand Rapids for Brandon Caserta as well as two other defendants accused in the scheme.

Brandon Caserta

Nils Kessler, one of the prosecutors for the government, asked FBI Special Agent Richard Trask about encrypted messages Caserta reportedly sent in a group chat with several co-defendants and an informant.

At one point, Caserta, who lives in Canton, mentioned, "Injustice just happened to me on my way home from work," referencing a traffic stop in which township officers found he was driving "without up-to-date insurance," Kessler said.

The traffic stop was conducted at about 1:10 a.m. Sept. 19. When a police officer asked Caserta for proof of insurance, the 32-year-old provided a document that expired in June, according to heavily edited dash cam footage The Detroit News obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Detroit News’ request for the dash cam footage was granted in part and denied in part. Township officials cited guidelines under FOIA that include allowing exemptions for “information of a personal nature if public disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy.”

The township also cited exemptions for information that would "interfere with law enforcement proceedings," "deprive a person of the right to a fair trial" or "disclose law enforcement techniques or procedures."

The officer allowed Caserta to search his car for current papers. Much of the dialogue during the encounter is censored. After several minutes and a partner bringing a K-9 unit, the officer told Caserta he was given "a waivable citation for no proof of insurance."

The officer also told Caserta: "You should change your address on your license. Technically by law you're supposed to."

Caserta simply said, "OK," before the officer and his partner returned to their police vehicle.

Trask confirmed Caserta "said he has the two guys' names. He's considering doing a recon. He knows they work night shift. And states he could easily tap them and dip and no one would know a thing. And then further follows up saying it would be good practice."

A screenshot of the Sept. 19 traffic stop as a Canton Township officer spoke with Caserta.

"Now, that's kind of slang," Kessler responded. "He'd tap them and dip. But tap them meaning shoot them?"

Trask said: "That's correct."

"So he's talking about finding where the two police officers who pulled him over live and shooting them at night?" Kessler asked. Trask again replied: "That's correct."

Last week, Caserta was among six arrested and charged in federal court in the alleged kidnapping scheme. Seven others were charged by the state who are believed to be members and associates of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen.

The seven were charged under the state's anti-terrorism law, up to a 20-year felony. The six face federal charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which is punishable by up to life in prison. 

Federal documents filed in court last week allege the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer's vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

Trask also testified during the bond hearing Tuesday that some of the men also had plans of "taking out" Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

Defense lawyer Michael Darragh Hills said Caserta was not present during a surveillance run at the governor’s vacation home in September.

In recent years, Caserta, who has three minor traffic offenses on his criminal record, posted inflammatory videos and messages on social media.

His hearing Tuesday ended with him and two others, Kaleb Franks of Waterford Township and Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris, being jailed without bond while awaiting trial after determining they are dangers to the community.

Two other Michigan men facing federal charges, Adam Fox and Ty Garbin, had their hearings moved to Friday. Another man, Barry Croft Jr. of Bear, Delaware, is being transferred to Michigan after a brief Tuesday hearing in federal court in his home state. 

On Thursday, Attorney General Dana Nessel's office announced a Wisconsin man became the 14th person charged in connection with the kidnapping plot.

mhicks@detroitnews.com