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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Second conspirator to kidnap Michigan governor pleads guilty

The 26-year-old may testify against his alleged collaborators in a trial scheduled to start in March.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — A second conspirator agreed to plead guilty for allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as the four remaining holdouts prepare for a trial scheduled to start in a few weeks.

Kaleb Franks of Waterford, Michigan, pleaded guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy in a hearing this morning. He admitted to the court that the group of men thought the Democratic governor overreacted with her guidelines and policies for Covid-19 and deserved punishment.

At the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Phillip Green combed over the plea agreement and asked Franks, 26, if he agreed with what the document said. He answered with a short “Yes, sir.”

Franks admitted he found the Wolverine Watchmen militia group online in early 2020 and pursued a connection with them. He was allowed into the group only after a vetting process where he was determined to be safe. Franks was then taught how to download an encrypted messaging app “to conceal discussion of illegal activity,” according to the plea agreement.

The agreement makes clear that Franks was all-in with the men on the kidnapping plot, but was hesitant to storm any government buildings. Franks thought group was in over their heads with their plan to attack the Michigan Capitol but was fine planning to kidnap the governor.

“The defendant believed the plan was not feasible with the group’s available manpower, training and equipment,” the agreement stated.

When Franks told the other members of his concerns that they could not succeed, the group shifted their efforts to kidnap Whitmer.

“The defendant … knowingly and voluntarily joined that plan,” the agreement reads.

The agreement also notes Franks engaged in firearms training in Wisconsin and Michigan and surveillance of Whitmer’s second home in northern Michigan.

Among the firearms involved was an AR-15 assault rifle with a short barrel, a silencer and a 37-millimeter projectile launcher allegedly provided by Barry Croft Jr., a defendant facing trial in March.

That information could be used at trial against the other men when Franks is called as a witness.

Recent filings by defense lawyers attempted to portray the remaining accused men as entrapped by secret government agents who egged them on. In a Jan. 10 brief, the defendants demanded access to complete government recordings — some that were made using key fobs — so they can use the statements of those agents to prove they were not the driving force behind the plan.

Franks could be used to counter those claims that the group was entrapped by the undercover agents. In the filing, he agreed to “fully cooperate with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Michigan Attorney General’s office” and other law enforcement agencies investigating the alleged kidnap plot and similar crimes.

He could still face up to life in prison if convicted.

In January 2021, Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, became the first from the group to plead guilty. He was sentenced in August 2021 to more than six years in prison but was commended by government lawyers for his help strengthening their case against the other men.

At his sentencing hearing, Garbin apologized to Whitmer, who was not in court.

“I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of stress and fear her family felt because of my actions. And for that I am truly sorry,” he told Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee, last August.

The four defendants left to face trial in March are Fox, 40, of Wyoming; Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion, Michigan and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township, Michigan.

Fox is accused of spearheading the kidnapping plot. Prosecutors claim he sought to assemble more than 200 men to storm the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to take hostages, including Whitmer.  

When Whitmer locked down the state in April 2020 to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists — including some carrying assault rifles — descended on the Michigan Capitol  soon after to protest her stay-at-home order in a scene that presaged the attempted U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6, 2021.

The defendants were said to have been furious with the governor over the coronavirus restrictions and vowed to try her for treason. Fox allegedly determined the best way to kidnap Whitmer would be at her private vacation residence or the governor’s official summer home.

In the original indictment from December 2020, prosecutors said Caserta sent a message to the other men saying they should give law enforcement one chance to retreat from any confrontation and then kill the officers if they refused.

Fox, Croft, Franks, Harris and Caserta each face up to life in prison if convicted of kidnapping conspiracy charges. Fox, Croft and Harris could also get a separate life sentence if convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft and Harris each face up to 10 years in prison if they're found guilty of possession of an unregistered destructive device.

Harris could be sentenced to a decade behind bars if convicted for possession of an unregistered short barrel rifle.

Categories / Criminal, Politics

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