The government employed at least a dozen confidential informants to infiltrate groups of armed extremists who allegedly plotted to kidnap the governor of Michigan, according to a new filing in federal court on Monday.
The filing, made by one of the five defendants in the federal case, asked that prosecutors be ordered to share more information about those informants, their relationship with the FBI, and the specific roles they played in building the case. It came among a blizzard of 15 new defense motions in the high-profile case, including requests to move it to a different district, to suppress evidence from a search warrant, and to try at least one defendant separately from the others.
Taken together, the new court papers offered a glimpse of the evolving defense strategies in the case, with several attorneys saying that they plan to argue that the FBI “induced or persuaded” the men to go along with the scheme.
The alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made international headlines last October, when the Department of Justice announced it had charged six men in a kidnapping conspiracy. Five of the defendants — Barry Croft, Adam Fox, Daniel Harris, Kaleb Franks, and Brandon Caserta — have all pleaded not guilty and have been held without bail since their arrests. A sixth, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the case in January.
According to the Justice Department, the men met and trained over a six-month period in 2020, during which time they developed a plan to kidnap Whitmer from her second home and possibly take her out of state where she could be put on “trial” for being a “tyrant.” No plan was ever executed before authorities made arrests.
Eight other men were charged under Michigan’s anti-terrorism statutes for providing material support to the plotters. Half of the defendants in the combined cases were members of a militant group known as the Wolverine Watchmen, which was associated with the Three Percenters extremist movement. All but two are from the state of Michigan.
A trial in the federal case is currently scheduled for October. Monday marked a filing deadline for defense motions in that case.
Although prosecutors have acknowledged using informants to build the case, the court file to date has provided very little detail on their activities or identities save for one informant, who testified in March. According to an attorney for Franks, the government has shared ID numbers linked to 12 confidential informants but, with one exception, has not provided background on how they were recruited, what payments they may have received from the FBI, where they are based, or what their names are.
Such information would be crucial to “preparation of a defense to the charges,” Franks’ lawyer, Scott Graham, claimed.
Franks, meanwhile, asked that the case be moved out of the Western District of Michigan, on the grounds that “press coverage of (and participation in) this matter has corrupted the potential trial atmosphere to the point that Mr. Franks will be denied a fair trial in Michigan.”
Graham specifically cited a motion filed by BuzzFeed News to obtain access to exhibits shown in a hearing in the case in January as an example of the media involvement in the case and the risk of “prejudice in this case based on the extensive, negative, pervasive press coverage of the allegations.”
Franks also asked to be tried separately because he is not facing a bomb charge that was added to the case earlier this year. That count, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, applies to three of the other defendants who are alleged to have tried to build explosive devices or procure bomb-making materials. According to attorney Graham, potential allegations by prosecutors in court about that charge “will certainly go far in frightening jurors and eliciting emotional decisions from them.”
In yet another motion, filed late on Sunday, an attorney for Croft claimed that prosecutors had provided more than 5,000 duplicate files as it shared evidence, including no fewer than 15 copies of the same audio recording, significantly increasing the burden on the defense.
Separately the attorney, Joshua Blanchard, asked the court to exclude from evidence some items that were recovered from Croft’s Delaware residence during an FBI search in October because, he claims, they were outside the scope of the warrant. Among those items were a 1-kilogram silver bar, a handwritten code cipher, and “Mr. Croft’s hat.”
Croft, a long-haul truck driver and father of three girls, is known among Three Percenters for often wearing a tricorn hat like those from the time of the American Revolution.