Michigan Man Pleads Guilty in Plot to Kidnap Governor

Ty Garbin has agreed to help prosecutors who claim a group of men sought to kidnap and punish Michigan’s Democratic governor for ordering a statewide lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.  

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing last October. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

DETROIT (CN) — A man who was part of a group that prosecutors say planned to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer pleaded guilty Wednesday to a conspiracy charge.  

Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, said he would cooperate fully with prosecutors, according to a plea agreement filed in Western Michigan federal courts. He admitted his guilt at a change of plea hearing in Grand Rapids before Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee. No agreement has been reached on final sentencing guidelines.

Garbin is the first defendant in the case to plead guilty to the indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Dec. 16, 2020. His sentencing is scheduled for July 8. He remains in the custody of U.S. Marshals.

Garbin’s arsenal of weapons was forfeited to the government and he consented not to help any of his alleged co-conspirators contest actions regarding their guns and ammunition. The government agreed it would not pursue any further charges against him for his assistance.

Ty Garbin is shown in a booking photo. (Kent County Sheriff via AP)

He was denied bond by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens in a preliminary hearing in October. Nicknamed “Gunny,” according to federal prosecutors, Garbin held a substantial firearms collection that included an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle as well as a camouflaged silencer. He was also accused of manufacturing guns without serial numbers and urging his co-defendants to keep a low profile until the plot came to fruition.

Garbin’s lawyer, Gary Springstead, relentlessly grilled FBI Special Agent Richard Trask during his testimony at the October hearing. Springstead suggested his client was only part of a Facebook group and not a true militia. He tried to sow doubt by questioning if every single meeting was recorded and said the alleged plot to kidnap the governor was merely “various ideas bandied about.”

Judge Berens considered a request to release Garbin to his parents under strict supervision and acknowledged his lack of criminal history, but said she could not ignore his gun collection and his documented behavior and statements collected by FBI agents. The guns may be legal, she said, but the purposes in which he allegedly planned to use them were not.

“I do find by clear and convincing evidence that he is a danger to the community,” the judge said at the hearing.

Garbin originally pleaded not guilty at a December hearing but was convinced to turn by federal prosecutors. He faces up to life in prison and there is no parole in the federal system. His sentence will be based on the nature of his crimes, his background history and the need to protect the public from him in the future. 

At a press conference in October, Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper said he was disturbed by the scope of the plot.

“This case is one of the largest cases in recent history. The nature of this case is rather unprecedented,” Gasper said.

Adam Fox, 37 of Wyoming, Michigan was described as a driving force behind the alleged kidnapping plot in an initial affidavit. Prosecutors claim he sought to assemble more than “200 men” to storm the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing to take hostages, including Whitmer. Fox allegedly said they would try the Democratic governor for treason in a trial that would occur before the November election.

After Whitmer locked down the state last spring to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists, including some carrying assault rifles, descended on the Michigan Capitol to protest her stay-at-home order in a chilling scene that presaged the attempted U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6. The governor has also been a target of criticism by Republican officials, including former President Donald Trump, over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In meetings last summer, Fox allegedly determined the best way to kidnap Whitmer would be at her private vacation residence or the governor’s official summer home.

“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over,” Fox told co-conspirators, according to the FBI affidavit.

The men planned to transport Whitmer to Wisconsin for their version of a trial, prosecutors say. A co-defendant, Daniel Harris, was allegedly recorded advocating for the assassination of the governor in the secret meetings.

“Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her… Fuck it,” Harris allegedly said. “I mean…fuck, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself, whoever does it.”

In addition to Garbin, Fox and Harris, the other men charged in the alleged kidnapping plot are Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township; Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford; and Barry Croft Jr., 44, of Bear, Delaware. A trial has been scheduled for March 23.

Springstead, Garbin’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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