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Second guilty plea expected in federal trial over alleged Whitmer kidnapping plot

A training exercise involving the men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer
courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan
A training exercise involving the men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer

A second man has agreed to plead guilty in the federal case over the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

That’s according to a filing posted Monday in federal court. In the filing, Kaleb Franks says he first heard about the “Wolverine Watchmen” militia in the Spring of 2020, through a Facebook group about firearms. He was then invited to join the militia, and by June of 2020, was actively engaged in the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.

Franks is one of 14 men who faced charges over the alleged plot. Eight of them were charged in state courts, and six faced federal charges. One of those six federal defendants — Ty Garbin — has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the trial.

The remaining five defendants, including Franks, had been arguing in court that they never really intended to kidnap the governor. Instead, they said in court filings, the plot was really hatched by overzealous undercover FBI agents and two informants, who continued to push the idea of kidnapping even as the defendants resisted it.

The case grew even more complicated as the lead FBI agent assigned to the case was arrested for assaulting his wife, and one of the informants was arrested and charged with violating federal gun laws.

But with the latest plea agreement from Kaleb Franks, prosecutors now have two alleged conspirators in the case who plan to testify that the kidnapping plot was real, and was driven by the men charged.

In the agreement, which Franks signed Sunday, he lays out the timeline of when he met the other alleged conspirators in the Wolverine Watchmen, and the undercover informants. But he says the informants were not the ones pushing the plot.

“The defendant was not entrapped or induced to commit any crimes by these individuals,” Franks admits in the plea agreement.

By signing the agreement, and cooperating against the remaining four defendants, Franks could see a reduced sentence.

The rest of the men are facing up to life in prison, if they’re convicted.

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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