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Man who pleaded guilty apologizes for his role in kidnapping plot, gets four-year sentence

Kaleb Franks is one of two men who've already pleaded guilty in the federal trial over the kidnapping plot. He's expected to testify for the prosecution.
Screenshot from video evidence submitted to the federal court.
U.S. Attorneys Office for the Western District of Michigan
Kaleb Franks apologized for his role in the kidnapping plot during a sentencing hearing in Grand Rapids on Thursday, October 6.

Kaleb Franks, one of the men who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, was sentenced to four years imprisonment today for his role in the plot.

Franks received a dramatically reduced sentence because of his guilty plea, and continued cooperation with prosecutors in both the federal and state criminal trials over the plot.

At his sentencing hearing at the federal court in Grand Rapids today, Franks apologized for his role in the plot.

“I would like to start by saying I’m sorry to the governor and her family,” Franks said. “I understand that this experience had to be very traumatic and difficult.”

Franks, who previously had charges for drug use, and who was working as a mentor with other recovered addicts prior to his arrest for kidnapping, said he was in a bad place when he first got involved in the kidnapping talks, and didn’t ask for help when he should have.

“The state of mind I’m in today is just not the same state of mind I was in back then,” he told U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.

The U.S. Prosecutors Office for the Western District of Michigan supported a lighter sentence for Franks, saying his testimony alongside Ty Garbin, who also pleaded guilty, was valuable in securing convictions for Adam Fox and Barry Croft, two of the alleged ringleaders of the plot.

“It really was invaluable to have the testimony of an insider,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler, noting that jurors might have more easily dismissed the testimony if only Garbin had taken the stand.

Kessler said Franks’ cooperation could also serve as a model for anyone else considering violent actions against the government.

“I don’t think I can undersell how serious it is that they wanted to kidnap the governor,” Kessler said, adding that - as the governor herself has pointed out - the plans went well beyond kidnapping. The men wanted to “put her on trial … and begin a second civil war,” Kessler said.

And the ideology that drove the men is one that is still present across the United States, Kessler told the judge.

“They’re insurrectionists who are bent on treason and they need to be deterred from doing that,” Kessler told U.S. District judge Robert Jonker.

But by accepting responsibility for his role in the plot, and helping to secure the conviction of the others, Franks could shows that people can turn away from violent rhetoric, Judge Jonker said in announcing a sentence of four years for Franks.

“In a case like this, when somebody like Mr. Franks comes forward and says I can’t believe I did this … it accomplishes what we want for anybody in this situation,” Jonker said, “which is to turn away from that kind of behavior and restore themself to the role of good citizen.”

“That needs to be reflected and rewarded,” Jonker said.

Jonker also imposed a financial fine totaling $2,600 and three years of probation for Franks, during which he’ll have to seek out mental health and substance abuse counseling, and give a probation officer access to all of his phones and computer devices.

The sentencing comes as three other men are on trial in Jackson County on state-level charges for their roles in the plot. Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar are charged with providing support to a terrorist act, and being members of a gang.

A second trial on state charges has yet to begin in Antrim County.

Barry Croft and Adam Fox, who were found guilty by a federal jury in August, are scheduled to be sentenced in December. They face up to life in prison, but attorneys for both men have filed to have their convictions overturned, based on a claim that one of the jurors in the case was biased against them from the start.

Two other men - Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris - were found not guilty on the kidnapping charges during a federal trial in April.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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