GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A member of the Wolverine Watchmen militia group testified on Thursday that he had a specific job in the plan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Kaleb Franks, 27, of Waterford, said he would be “an operator — that I would be one of the people on the front lines, so to speak, using my gun” to snatch the governor from inside, he said.
He testified that Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta and Ty Garbin would have been part of that extraction team.
Barry Croft Jr., he said, talked about using his grenade launcher and perhaps a machine gun mounted on a vehicle to take out the governor’s security team.
But he wasn’t sure what Adam Fox would be doing.
However, he testified, it was clear that Fox was the leader.
“Who was it most pushing the plan to kidnap the governor?” a federal prosecutor asked.
“Adam Fox,” Franks responded.
“Were you entrapped into joining the plan to kidnap the governor?” the prosecutor asked.
“No, I was not,” he said.
Both have said that FBI informants did not entrap them, as defense attorneys have argued.
Both have said they are hoping for lighter prison sentences in exchange for their testimony.
Franks, who worked at a drug and alcohol rehab center, testified in orange jail garb and handcuffs.
Prosecutors revealed on Thursday that Franks is under investigation for illegally using drugs while at the Newaygo County Jail on his federal charges.
Franks said he joined the Wolverine Watchmen in June 2020. While members complained about government over-reach, the talk about kidnapping Whitmer didn’t start until after they were introduced to Fox, he said.
“There were a lot more talks about the governor and the issues that they saw with her, a lot more meetings, a lot more training,” Franks testified.
At first, he said, he thought it was a bad idea, but then he started warming up to it.
He said he joined the conspiracy because, “I was hoping that I would be killed in the process. I no longer wanted to live.”
He said his mom, stepdad and brother had recently died, and he was struggling financially.
Franks said militia members grew suspicious that federal agents had infiltrated the group.
At one point, he said, Fox got his hands on an RF detector, which could detect if someone was wearing a wire.
“He walked past me and Dan Chappel and moved it around us,” Franks said.
They didn’t learn until after their arrests in October 2020 that Chappel was an FBI informant, known as “Big Dan.”
Garbin testified that he also thought the kidnapping plan was a bad idea at first, but later changed his mind, believing they could pull it off.
“We started training with other groups, and our skill sets became more refined,” Garbin said.
Under cross-examination, Garbin said the kidnapping plan — to leave the governor stranded on a boat in Lake Michigan — hadn’t been finalized. Part of the problem: finding a boat.
“We could steal a boat, buy a boat, there’s plenty of ways to locate a boat,” Garbin said.
Garbin said he owned a 14-foot row boat, but the engine didn’t work.
He said he offered up his boat “to do night surveillance on the small lake” where Whitmer’s cottage was located.
During his testimony, Caserta’s attorney, Mike Hills, said he caught Garbin in a lie. Garbin had testified that Caserta was at an Aug. 9, 2020, militia meeting and had agreed with the plans.
After some back and forth between the attorney and Garbin, Judge Robert J. Jonker put a stop to the questioning.
“To me this is pretty important,” Hills objected.
“Well, it’s not to me,” the judge responded.
“I feel like you shut me down a lot,” attorney Hills told the judge after the jury left the courtroom.
“Well, you deserved it a lot,” the judge responded.
Hills told the judge his client was not at that Aug. 9 meeting as Garbin testified.
“He’s lying,” Hills told the judge.
The original criminal complaint in the case listed those who participated in that Aug. 9 meeting: Fox, Garbin, Harris, Franks and CHS-2 (Dan Chappel). Caserta was not listed.
The indictment also doesn’t list Caserta as attending that meeting.
Attorneys suggested Garbin’s testimony was different than what he’s told investigators and the grand jury.
On the day of his arrest, Garbin told investigators that Caserta had “no real role” in the conspiracy, Hills pointed out. On the witness stand, Garbin said he didn’t recall saying that.
Franks will face cross-examination on Friday.
Federal prosecutors were reluctant to say whether the undercover FBI agent known as “Red,” who posed as an explosives expert, would also testify on Friday.
They told the judge they’re afraid that if he ends up not testifying on Friday, and his true identity is released, they’d have to have a SWAT team protecting him all weekend.
They hope to wrap up their case by the end of next week.
Prosecutors told the judge that defense attorneys plan to call numerous FBI agents as witnesses, including one who is stationed in Puerto Rico.