Feds: FBI informant tried to help the Whitmer kidnap plot suspects

This photo shows from top left, Kaleb Franks, Brandon Caserta, Adam Dean Fox, and bottom left, Daniel Harris, Barry Croft, and Ty Garbin. A federal judge on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, said he would postpone the Oct. 12 trial of five men accused of planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The feds caught a rat.

According to an explosive new court filing, a rogue undercover informant was a double agent, secretly trying to help the Gretchen Whitmer kidnap plot suspects snatch the governor, tipped one man off that the feds were onto the group, and tried to thwart their arrests and continue the scheme.

This same informant offered to use a drone to carry out domestic terrorism acts, records show, and use charity funds to pay for attacks.

But the feds caught on to him and booted him from the case.

He was known as Steve, one of four rogue actors in the Whitmer investigation who have been kicked off the case over misdeeds that the defense hopes to use to derail the government's case at trial in March.

"Steve was a 'double agent,' often working against the interests of the government," federal prosecutors disclosed in a Thursday court filing.

"Steve attempted to obstruct the defendants’ arrest and continue the kidnapping plot," the filing states, adding Steve also defied the instructions of his FBI handlers.

"Steve contacted at least one of the defendants shortly before their arrest and said he had been stopped by the feds," prosecutors wrote, alleging the informant also took measures to cover up his own acts.

After contacting one of the defendants, prosecutors said, Steve contacted another informant — not knowing they were an informant — and asked them to "delete the in-car recording of the surveillance of the governor's home."

"Steve told the informant that he would act as the leader in coordinating attacks in multiple states going forward," prosecutors added, noting that never happened.

Steve got fired from the case and wound up getting criminally charged and convicted of being a felon in possession.

More: Feds: Enough with the delays. Let's take this Whitmer kidnap case to trial

More: 3 FBI agents crucial in Whitmer kidnap case, defense lawyers say

"Because (informant) Steve’s actions were so far outside the bounds of the cooperation agreement, it was terminated," wrote prosecutors, who are trying to keep any comments Steve made during the investigation out of the trial.

"As with all informants, before cooperating with the FBI, he agreed to a number of

rules and terms. Those included following agent direction, not committing unsanctioned crimes, candid disclosure to his handling agents, and others ... Steve violated those rules, ending his cooperation and relationship with the FBI," prosecutors wrote. "Steve also failed to record, and to disclose, the presence of existing recordings of pertinent conversations and events."

The government disclosed these details in an effort to keep his statements — and hundreds more — from being admitted at trial, as the defense has requested. The government has asked a judge to keep 258 statements out of the Whitmer kidnap trial, statements the defense claims will help prove that their clients were entrapped.

The government says that's hogwash and claims the defense has cherry-picked "self-serving" comments to bolster a false entrapment narrative, and perhaps more importantly, to keep their clients off the stand.

"Defendants now move to admit more than 258 self-serving, out-of-court statements in part to avoid testifying under oath, subject to cross-examination about those statements," prosecutors argued in a Thursday court filing. "These statements are inadmissible hearsay or are inadmissible because they are irrelevant."

The government is responding to a request by the defense last week that

258 statements made by FBI agents, undercover informants and the defendants themselves be admitted as evidence at trial. The comments include snippets of conversations that were secretly recorded by informants who had infiltrated the group, and text messages sent by investigators and the defendants.

Some of the statements the defense wants to use were those of "Steve" — whose real is name is Stephen Robeson, 58, of Wisconsin, who was indicted in March on charges of illegally possessing a high-powered sniper rifle. He pleaded guilty in October, admitting he bought the rifle from a man at church, used it and then sold it months later to someone on Facebook messenger. He will be sentenced in February. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he is expected to get two years probation.

Robeson's lawyer, Wisconsin attorney Joseph Bugni, declined comment.

The defense, meanwhile, argues that the statements at issue show that it was the FBI that hatched the kidnapping plot — not their clients — and that the jury needs to hear them. But the prosecution says the statements are both irrelevant and hearsay, which is testimony from a trial witness who is reciting a statement made by someone else. In most courts, hearsay is inadmissible unless it meets various exceptions.

The prosecution claims the statements at issue "do not meet any recognized hearsay exemptions or exceptions."

"To the contrary, they are exactly the sort of self-serving, unreliable out-of-court statements that the rules of evidence prohibit," prosecutors argue.

The government argues that "there is no evidence" that any of the FBI agents or undercover informants "were specifically authorized to make particular statements on behalf of the United States government."

Prosecutors maintain that the statements at issue aren't part of their case, including 34 FBI agent statements that the defense wants to use.

"The government has not endorsed or bound itself with any of those statements by including them in search warrant affidavits or court pleadings. The statements were not made under oath or even part of anything as formal as an agency report. Instead, the statements were made over text message or otherwise captured on one of their own recording devices. These were the agents’ own statements and not the statements of the United States government," prosecutors argue, adding that makes them inadmissible.

More: How the defense plans to clear suspects in Gov. Whitmer kidnap trial

Moreover, the government argues, most of the FBI agents' statements that the defense wants to use at trial were made to informants, not the defendants, "and are therefore not relevant."

The government says these statements prove nothing, arguing that a "valid entrapment defense" requires proof of two things: that the government induced a crime, and that there's a "lack of predisposition on the part of the defendant to engage in the criminal activity.”

"Law enforcement agents actions or statements directly to defendants may be relevant to inducement, but statements they made to each other or third parties are not," prosecutors argue.

Here are some of the statements that the defense wants jurors to hear at trial:

FBI agent: “We have a saying in my office. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” The defense says this comment shows the FBI disregarded the defendants' "unequivocal objections" to a kidnapping plan.

FBI agent: “Mission is to kill the governor specifically.” Defense says this text message from the agent to an informant shows the FBI was "manufacturing" the kidnapping mission and "calling the shots." But the government says the agent's text was a question, not a statement, and that the defense took it out of context.

Defendant Daniel Harris: "No snatch and grab. I swear to ...God." Defense says this comment shows the defendant was opposed to any kidnapping plan.

Defendant Ty Garbin: “Captain Autism can't make up his mind.” He was referring to accused ringleader Adam Fox. Defense says this comment shows that Fox had no actual disposition toward committing wrongdoing, and that no one in the group took him seriously.

The government has balked at that concept, saying Garbin was frustrated about Fox not getting back to him with a phone number.

"This statement has little or no relevance to any issue at trial," the government said of the "Captain Autism" comment by Garbin.

Garbin previously pleaded guilty to his role in the case and is serving a six-year prison sentence. He is expected to testify against the others at trial.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: FBI informant tried to help the Whitmer kidnap plot suspects

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting