GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors bagged a second conviction Wednesday in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, gaining another critical witness just weeks before four other men face trial.
Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He said he agreed to participate in an astonishing scheme to get the Democratic governor, who was targeted because of her restrictive policies during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FBI had infiltrated the group of six men and broke up the plan with a series of arrests in October 2020, just as the presidential election campaign neared a close.
With his plea, Franks joined co-defendant Ty Garbin in admitting guilt and agreeing to help prosecutors at the March 8 trial. Franks faces a prison term, but his cooperation could lead to a lighter sentence in the months ahead.
Franks replied, “yes, sir,” to a series of questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Phillip Green, who went over many details in the plea agreement.
Seven pages of the 19-page document signed by Franks offer a road map of the plot. It repeatedly mentions his work with the four remaining co-defendants, from firearms training in Wisconsin and Michigan to surveillance of Whitmer’s second home in northern Michigan.
Those details are significant because they signal what Franks is willing to testify about when called as a trial witness. He would counter defense claims that the group was entrapped by undercover agents and informants.
Franks said he connected online with the Wolverine Watchmen, a self-styled militia group, in spring 2020, attended a protest and soon learned how to download an encrypted messaging app “to conceal discussion of illegal activity,” according to his plea agreement.
The others facing trial are Adam Fox, who is described as a ringleader, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
“During all their months of training together, (Franks) never heard Fox, Croft, Harris or Caserta say they were doing anything because” informants had pushed for it, the plea agreement states.
Green asked Franks about the construction of a “shoot house” during firearm training.
It was a “mock-up of the governor’s home,” Franks replied.
After the hearing, defense attorney Scott Graham declined to comment about Franks’ decision to plead guilty.
Garbin, who quickly began assisting the government after his arrest and even testified to the grand jury that produced the indictment, pleaded guilty in 2021 and was sentenced to slightly more than six years in prison.
The arrests were a remarkable event in the final weeks of a tumultuous 2020 election season.
Whitmer pinned some blame on then-President Donald Trump, saying his refusal to denounce far-right groups had inspired extremists across the country. Trump had earlier urged supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan and two other states led by Democratic governors from stay-at-home mandates.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. White reported from Detroit.