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DETROIT – Almost three months after his arrest, a Michigan man pleaded guilty to his alleged role in the foiled plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and agreed to "fully cooperate" with the FBI in exchange for leniency, including testifying against his cohorts if called upon.
Ty Garbin, an airline mechanic from Wixom, Michigan, pleaded guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids on Wednesday morning, admitting that he was part of a group that sought to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home and that he was more than a bystander.
Garbin said he cased Whitmer's vacation home in preparation for the kidnapping, attended training exercises and brought night binoculars to one exercise.
Garbin, 25, could face up to life in prison on the conspiracy charge. Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a lighter sentence – they did not disclose any figures – in exchange for his cooperation. The judge will have the final say in his sentence.
Garbin is one of 14 men accused of conspiring to kidnap the governor, motivated largely by anger over her lockdown orders during the pandemic.
Before accepting his guilty plea, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker reminded Garbin that he would give up his gun rights.
"You can’t lawfully own a firearm, ever again. You understand that? " Jonker said.
"I understand that, your honor," Garbin said.
The judge reminded Garbin of his cooperation agreement.
"This could mean that you have to testify ... even if it means hurting people you know. Do you understand that?" the judge said.
"I do, your honor," Garbin answered.
The judge went over the details of the case, including claims that Garbin and several others cased the governor's vacation home at night.
"You were part of that?" Jonker asked Garbin.
"That's correct, your honor," Garbin responded.
"Surveilling her house at night ... you got involved of your own free will?" the judge asked.
"I did, your honor," he responded.
"You knew what you were doing?" the judge continued.
"I did, your honor," Garbin said.
Jonker accepted Garbin's plea and set a sentencing date for July.
Garbin's plea agreement includes new details in the case, including that the alleged ringleader, Adam Fox, prepared the basement where he lived for a kidnapping exercise and planned on using zip ties and a taser to "neutralize" the governor.
Defense lawyers argued that the defendants had no real plan to kidnap the governor but were only blowing off steam, talking tough and engaging in puffery.
Prosecutors said the suspects took steps to carry out their plan, such as casing the governor's home, drawing up maps and holding training exercises.
Garbin was the first to cut a deal in the case.
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Garbin was an active participant in plot, prosecutors argue
Garbin and four of his co-defendants were arrested in an FBI sting Oct. 6 after undercover informants and agents infiltrated their group and learned of their alleged plan to kidnap the governor. One FBI agent said there was talk of taking Whitmer out on a boat and leaving her stranded in Lake Michigan.
Six men face federal charges in the case; Eight others with alleged ties to the kidnap plot face terrorism charges in state court for, among other things, allegedly plotting a violent revolt at the state Capitol.
After his arrest, Garbin's lawyer, Mark Satawa, argued that his client was a bystander in the plot and that he would be vindicated when the facts came out.
Prosecutors countered that Garbin was an active participant who carried out the following acts:
He cased the governor's vacation home at night.
He texted about blowing up a bridge to slow police down.
He offered to paint his boat for "night fishing" as part of the kidnapping mission on the lake.
Prosecutors used those allegations, along with claims that Garbin had the ability to manufacture guns, to convince a judge to deny bond to Garbin last fall. The government argued that Garbin was a danger to society and could not be trusted not to flee.
A magistrate judge agreed and ordered him detained.
All six federal defendants were denied bond. Eight others are charged in state court on terrorism and gun-related charges.
According to court records, Garbin was a member of the Wolverine Watchmen, a self-proclaimed "militia," and met Fox at a Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol in Lansing.
The FBI said Garbin and others attended a firearms training in Cambria, Wisconsin, including an attempt to make an improvised explosive device.
According to court documents, the FBI reviewed encrypted group chats that indicated Garbin, Fox and others planned to meet an associate Oct. 7 "to make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear."
The rendezvous didn't go as planned.
When Garbin and his alleged cohorts showed up, FBI agents were waiting and arrested them instead.
Follow reporter Tresa Baldas on Twitter: @Tbaldas
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ty Garbin pleads guilty in Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnap plot