Judge: Ab­duc­tion cases may head to grand jury

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By David Eggert and Kath­leen Foody David Eggert and Kath­leen Foody are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

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.

Junfu Han / Detroit Free Press

Fed­eral agents thwarted the pur­ported scheme to abduct Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer.

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