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A biker from Wisconsin who worked as a confidential informant for the FBI in its investigation of an alleged extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has reached a plea deal on a gun charge that will give him two years of probation instead of a maximum term of up to 10 years in prison, according to a new filing in federal court.
Stephen Robeson, 57, of Oxford, Wisconsin, helped the government infiltrate militant extremists and went with them to surveil Whitmer’s lakeside vacation home. He was not charged during the October 2020 takedown of the alleged plotters but was instead indicted this spring for possessing a .50-caliber sniper rifle, which he was forbidden from touching because he has multiple felony convictions.
In response to his indictment, Robeson admitted to having the gun, but his lawyer said he had also had something else: permission, as a confidential informant, to “engage in illegal conduct.” Robeson’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bugni, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Court filings show that at least a dozen informants — known in FBI lingo as "confidential human sources" — played some role in the Michigan case, which resulted in criminal charges against 14 people in state and federal courts, including multiple members of a militant group called the Wolverine Watchmen.
But documents and interviews suggest that few informants played a more critical role than Stephen Robeson, a burly member of the Three Percenter militant group known to associates as “Robey.”
Robeson helped organize a series of meetings in several states where prosecutors claim the defendants first developed plans to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home and either abandon her on a boat floating on Lake Michigan or take her to Michigan to be tried for treason. He was in frequent contact with a number of the defendants in the case and attended a nighttime surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home in September of 2020, during which several men, including an undercover FBI agent, discussed blowing up a bridge to slow the police response to the kidnapping.
The federal trial in the kidnapping case, which is one of the most prominent domestic terrorism prosecutions in a generation, is set to start next month, although defendants in that case last week requested a 90-day delay. Several have indicated that they intend to mount an entrapment defense, arguing that there was no true conspiracy and that informants including Robeson induced them to say and do incriminating things.
Some defendants have indicated they’d seek testimony from Robeson at trial, saying that his criminal history and the nature of his cooperation might strengthen the argument that they were set up. But Robeson’s ability — and willingness — to testify in court without invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself have been in doubt because of the gun charge hanging over his head.
A second confidential informant, identified in court papers as “Dan,” also played a significant role in building the case, recording hours of audio and video of the day-to-day activities of the Wolverine Watchmen and other defendants. He testified for a full day in a state hearing in March.
One defendant, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and last month was sentenced to 75 months in prison for his role in the alleged plot. A federal prosecutor said at Garbin's sentencing that he expected him to be a “star witness” for the government at trial.
In a letter to the court on Wednesday, Robeson’s lawyer informed the judge that both sides have come to an agreement. A signed copy has not yet been filed, because his client had contracted COVID-19, so the agreement was sent via mail.
Robeson had been set to go to trial in Wisconsin on Oct. 12, the same day the Michigan case is currently scheduled to begin.
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