Michigan man accused in plot to kidnap Whitmer seeks get-out-of-jail card

©The Detroit News

Kaleb Franks. - Kent County Jail/TNS/TNS

DETROIT — A Waterford man accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tried Wednesday to get out of jail on bond, arguing the alleged conspiracy was absurd and that there was no imminent threat to public officials.

Kaleb Franks, 26, known as “Red Hot,” made the request two weeks after being ordered held without bond alongside four other accused co-conspirators who an FBI agent testified plotted to kidnap Whitmer and put her on trial for treason.

The bond request comes three weeks after prosecutors said the FBI had thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Whitmer. The conspiracy included surveillance visits to Whitmer’s home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices.

Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.

“It is now clear that the alleged object of the conspiracy is outlandish and absurd,” Franks’ lawyer Scott Graham wrote in a court filing Wednesday. “There was no plan regarding what the alleged conspirators would do with the governor. There has been talk of a plan to set her adrift in a boat in Lake Michigan. Of course, there is no evidence describing how this would occur.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said Franks and co-defendants were dangers to the public and ordered them held without bond pending trial. The judge also said there was sufficient evidence to support the kidnapping conspiracy charge, pointing to allegations the alleged co-conspirators conducted nighttime surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan.

The men facing federal kidnapping conspiracy charges were part of a broader attempt to spark a civil war by overthrowing the government and kill police personnel, according to the government. In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal court, including members and associates of an obscure militia, the Wolverine Watchmen.

The five others charged in federal court are:

— Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville, known as “Alpha F — You”

— Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, known as “Gunney”

— Daniel Harris, 23, known as “Beaker”

— Brandon Caserta, 32, known as “Debased Tyrant”

— Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware

One significant question that remains is the seriousness of the kidnapping conspiracy, Graham wrote.

“Now that any possible plan or conspiracy has been thwarted, there is no imminent threat to a public official or anyone else,” Graham wrote. “Quick work by the authorities took care of that potential issue.”

He pointed to one allegation that the accused plotters talked about having Whitmer stand trial in Wisconsin.

“Again, there is no evidence about how they planned to transport her to Wisconsin, through what would have surely been the most extensive manhunt in the history of the state,” Graham wrote.

The lawyer noted a wide disparity between bond offered for some defendants awaiting trial on state charges and the federal defendants.

Last week, for example, a Jackson County judge slashed a $10 million bond to $100,000 for Pete Musico, 42, of Munith, who is accused in a plot to storm Michigan’s Capitol, harm government officials and kidnap Whitmer.

“There seems to be some recognition that any imminent danger in plans by the alleged conspirators has dissipated,” Graham wrote.

He tried to counter allegations Franks was involved in making two unregistered handguns, known as “ghost guns.”

“The government argued that this suggested Mr. Franks could obtain firearms if on bond,” Graham wrote. “But the facts show that Mr. Franks did not do any work to make a firearm. He did not have the tools or experience to do so. He will not have access to any firearms if he is admitted to bond.”

Franks has diabetes and is at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 in jail, his lawyer added.

The public got a look at some of the evidence during bond hearings earlier this month. The evidence included undercover video shot by an FBI informant and selfie videos and photos shot by members of the alleged conspiracy.

On Monday, prosecutors revealed that investigators had recently found “explosive device components” while investigating the conspiracy and needed more time to consider seeking federal terrorism charges.

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©2020 The Detroit News