GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors provided enough evidence to move toward trial for five Michigan men accused of plotting to kidnap the state’s governor, a federal judge ruled Friday in Grand Rapids.
A two-day preliminary hearing this week featured testimony by one of the FBI agents who ran the investigation, relying on confidential informants and undercover agents to thwart the purported scheme.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said the five men’s cases can go to a grand jury, which will determine whether to issue indictments. That is required for them to face trial.
Berens is also set to consider Friday whether two of the men, Adam Fox and Ty Garbin, should be denied bond ahead of trial. Berens on Tuesday denied bond for three other men charged with planning to abduct Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A sixth man, Barry Croft, was separately ordered on Tuesday to be transferred to Michigan from his home state of Delaware.
Judge Berens on Tuesday ordered Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta held without bond until trial, saying their repeated participation in discussions about abducting Michigan’s Democratic governor and surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home validated the decision. Berens is scheduled to make bond decisions Friday for Adam Fox and Ty Garbin.
A sixth man, Delaware resident Barry Croft, was separately ordered to be transferred to Michigan earlier this week.
The preliminary hearing began Tuesday and featured hours of testimony by a lead FBI agent on the Michigan case, revealing new detail about investigators’ use of confidential informants, undercover agents and encrypted communication to thwart the purported scheme.
Agent Richard Trask also said members of anti-government paramilitary groups from several states discussed abducting Whitmer or Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during a June meeting in Ohio.
Fox and Croft were among those who attended that session, according to testimony and federal court documents. But it was not clear if talk of targeting Northam went beyond that meeting, and nothing from the complaint or Trask’s testimony indicated that anyone had been charged with a plot involving Northam.
The men could get up to life in prison if convicted.
Several of their defense attorneys implied during questioning on Tuesday that their clients were “big talkers” who did not intend to follow through with action.
Prosecutors, though, said some of the men conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s northern Michigan house in August and September and four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.
Seven other men purportedly linked to an extremist paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court last week with providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm while committing a felony. Michigan’s attorney general charged an eighth person — a Wisconsin man — in that case on Thursday.