Judge: Abduction cases may head to grand jury
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Prosecutors provided enough evidence to move toward trial for five Michigan men accused of plotting to kidnap the state’s governor because of her measures to control the spread of the coronavirus and they will all remain held without bond, a federal judge ruled Friday.
A twoday preliminary hearing in Grand Rapids this week featured testimony by one of the FBI agents who ran the investigation, relying on confidential informants and undercover agents to thwart the purported scheme to abduct Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said the five men’s cases can go to a grand jury, which will determine whether to issue indictments. That is required for them to face trial.
Berens also ruled following a Friday bond hearing that Ty Garbin will remain in custody along with Adam Fox, who waived his right to a hearing. Berens on Tuesday denied bond for the three other Michigan residents charged in the case: Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
A sixth man, Barry Croft, was separately ordered on Tuesday to be transferred to Michigan from his home state of Delaware.
Authorities allege members of two antigovernment paramilitary groups took part in plotting the kidnapping of Whitmer. Six men, led by Fox of the “Michigan III% ers,” are charged in federal court. Eight others are believed to be members or associates of a group called the Wolverine Watchmen and are charged in state court with counts including providing material support for terrorist acts.
The federal preliminary hearing began Tuesday and wrapped up Friday. Agent Richard Trask testified that members of antigovernment paramilitary groups from several states discussed abducting Whitmer or Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam during a June meeting in Ohio.
Fox and Croft were among those who attended that session, according to testimony and court documents. But it was not clear whether talk of targeting Northam went beyond that meeting, and nothing from the complaint or Trask’s testimony indicated that anyone had been charged with a plot involving Northam.
The men could get up to life in prison if convicted.
Several of their defense attorneys implied during questioning that their clients were “big talkers” who did not intend to follow through with action.
“It’s loose talk,” said Scott Graham, an attorney for Franks. “And again, the point is: What has been done to show you that there was an actual agreement?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler, though, argued the group demonstrated their discussions were serious by taking steps to keep them secret, including using encrypted chat tools. Authorities found conversations among group members in which they were worried that federal authorities had infiltrated their planning sessions, he said.
Some of them also participated in surveillance of Whitmer’s northern Michigan home, Kessler said.
Federal agents thwarted the purported scheme to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.