GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — FBI informant “Big Dan” was facing a potentially dangerous problem as he helped investigate the alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Dan Chappel, known as Big Dan during his undercover work, feared his cover as an informant, which had him mingling with armed militia members, had been blown.
So, he turned to his FBI handlers for a fix.
Their suggestion: Tell the Wolverine Watchmen militia group that one its newest members, a man named Trent, was a fed, Chappel testified.
Some in the group already suspected he might be working undercover; some called him “fed boy,” Chappel testified.
“Trent’s a real person, right?” Daniel Harris’s attorney, Julia Kelly, asked Chappel.
“He is,” Chappel responded.
“So blame an innocent person who they might already think is a fed?” Brandon Caserta’s attorney, Michael Hill, asked him later.
Turns out, Chappel’s cover hadn’t been blown.
He continued to work for the feds until they arrested the suspects in October 2020, and is now a star witness for federal prosecutors in the case against four men: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris.
Chappel, an Army veteran, has said he started working as an informant in March 2020 after he joined the Wolverine Watchmen and grew concerned about their talk about killing police officers.
Under cross-examination, he testified the FBI paid him $54,000 for his seven months of work — about the same amount he earned at his real job driving a truck. That included reimbursement for the purchase of a laptop, a warranty for the laptop and a Samsung Galaxy smart watch, he said.
He said he missed 15 weeks of work while posing as a Wolverine Watchmen.
Within a week of becoming an informant, and agreeing to carry a secret recording device for the FBI, the Wolverine Watchmen named him second in command.
He’s testified that the talk eventually turned to kidnapping the governor, upset about her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, his third day on the witness stand, defense attorneys worked to expose inconsistencies in the government’s case.
Chappel has testified he was ordered by the FBI not to suggest any ideas or help develop any attack plans.
But he testified on Tuesday that his FBI handlers told him to suggest they go after a “softer target” — by destroying the governor’s boat.
An FBI agent testified earlier that the plan to kidnap the governor from her cottage involved three boats, including one on her lake, and two waiting on Lake Michigan.
It also involved stealing the governor’s car and then stranding her in a boat in the middle of the big lake.
But Chappel described a different plan:
They’d use an ATV to whisk away the governor from her cottage after killing her security detail, and deploy one boat, which would be waiting for her on Lake Michigan.
He said it would take three teams, all wearing body armor — one for the assault on the cottage, one to extract the governor and the third in the waiting boat.
They’d take her in the boat to Wisconsin, hold a “kangaroo” court and execute her, he said.
“I think there was a two-boat system, a three-boat system, a two-helicopter system, maybe a three-helicopter system,” Croft’s attorney, Joshua Blanchard, said outside the courthouse.
On Tuesday, attorneys also worked to distance their clients from the conspiracy.
Hills, the attorney for Caserta, questioned Big Dan to show Caserta’s lack of involvement in key parts of the alleged conspiracy: That he wasn’t in charge of training, that he didn’t create any itinerary, that he didn’t contribute money to a pool allegedly meant to buy a bomb, that he wasn’t on either of the two recon missions to the governor’s cottage in Elk Rapids.
The informant testified earlier that he was afraid of Caserta, that he always kept his back to the door when he was with him. Caserta had talked about his desire to hunt down COVID-19 contact tracers and kill them, that going after the governor wasn’t enough and that he wanted to drink blood from the skulls of Zionist bankers, the informant testified.
But, despite that, Caserta’s attorney pointed out, the informant spent hours with Caserta, even helped him fix his broken-down car without incident.