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By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) - One of 14 men accused of taking part in a plot by right-wing militia extremists to abduct Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer broke ranks with his co-defendants on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to a federal kidnapping conspiracy charge.
Ty Garbin entered his plea in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a deal with prosecutors agreeing to testify against those charged as co-conspirators in both federal and state investigations, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement.
Garbin and five other men - Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta - were arrested and charged by federal authorities in October with conspiring to abduct Whitmer, a Democrat, from her vacation home last summer.
The plea agreement, filed in court by Birge's office, described Garbin and four of his co-defendants as members of an anti-government militia group based in Michigan called the Wolverine Watchmen.
Eight other men accused of taking part in the kidnapping plot have been charged in Michigan state court with domestic terrorism and are also characterized by prosecutors as members or associates of the Wolverine Watchmen.
Prosecutors have said all 14 suspects targeted Whitmer in retribution for public health orders she imposed placing restrictions on a wide range of social and business activity to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Sentencing for Garbin, who remains in custody, was set for July 8, and he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, Birge said. His co-defendants in the federal case face trial slated to begin on March 23.
While the plea deal did not obligate the government to recommend a reduced sentence for Garbin, prosecutors said they would decide their recommendation based on his level of cooperation.
The federal indictment accused Garbin and his five co-defendants of discussing plans to kidnap Whitmer; meeting in July in Wisconsin to practice using assault rifles; placing Whitmer vacation home under surveillance in August and September and mapping out how far it was from the nearest police station.
Garbin's plea agreement also contained the allegation that Fox, one of the accused ringleaders, had said at a meeting in June that "he wanted to recruit 200 people to storm the (Michigan) Capitol, try any politicians they caught for 'treason' and execute them by hanging on live television."
Garbin himself, according to the court filing, had later advocated "waiting until after the national election, when the conspirators expected widespread civil unrest to make it easier for them to operate."
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)