A Michigan man on Wednesday pleaded guilty Wednesday to a kidnapping conspiracy charge related to a now-admitted plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and to potentially leave her stranded in a boat in Lake Michigan.
The man, Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland, Mich., entered the plea in hopes of obtaining a lighter sentence. The group of which he was a part also sought to “try” elected public officials for “treason” and to “execute them by hanging on live television,” court records indicate.
Co-defendants Adam Dean Fox, Barry Croft, Jr., Kaleb James Franks, Daniel Joseph Harris and Brandon Michael-Ray Caserta are scheduled to go to trial on March 23.
Garbin is scheduled to be sentenced July 8. He could face up to life in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to five years of supervised release if he’s sentenced to a lesser term. However, federal prosecutors suggested they would be inclined to ask the judge for a lighter sentence if Garbin’s information helped them prosecute future cases. All told, the plea deal, per its own terms, could allow Garbin to dip below Level 16 of the United States Sentencing Commission’s guidelines. Depending on Garbin’s criminal record — or lack thereof — he could be out of prison in less than twenty years.
That, however, depends on his cooperation and the judge’s acceptance of the government’s suggestions. The plea agreement is not a formal contract as to Garbin’s ultimate punishment.
“The defendant and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have no agreement as to the applicable Sentencing Guidelines factors or the appropriate guideline range,” the document says. “Both parties reserve the right to seek any sentence within the statutory maximum.”
Garbin’s agreement also requires him to “fully cooperate” with asset seizure and forfeiture efforts launched by the government regarding property connected to the kidnapping plot. He must also agree to provide evidence in the prosecutions of his alleged conspirators.
Undercover FBI agents infiltrated the group last year. Six defendants were charged federally; eight were charged in state courts.
Pursuant to the plea, Garbin admitted that he, Harris, Franks, and Caserta joined a “self-styled ‘militia’ group” known as the “Wolverine Watchmen.” In June, 2020, Fox sought to link the group to other, similar groups in Michigan “to work toward common goals.”
From the plea agreement:
On or about June 18, 2020, the defendant, Harris and other members of the Wolverine Watchmen leadership met Fox in person at a “Second Amendment Rally” outside the Michigan State Capitol. Fox said he wanted to recruit 200 people to storm the Capitol, try any politicians they caught for “treason,” and execute them by hanging on live television.
Garbin admitted he gathered together with “other Wolverine Watchmen leaders” in the basement of a building where he worked in Grand Rapids. He said he and Croft met with other so-called “like-minded individuals” near Columbus, Ohio, in June, “where they discussed ‘fixing’ their local governments and removing ‘tyrants’ from office.”
Eventually, that basement would be used for close-quarters combat training.
“Fox reiterated the plan to storm the Michigan State Capitol, and proposed using Molotov cocktails and other improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) to distract and hinder law enforcement during the operation,” the agreement goes on to say. “Fox also proposed kidnapping the Governor of Michigan (“the Governor”) and holding her for trial at an alternate location. Fox told the defendant that Croft wanted to ‘restore our Constitutional rights by any means,’ and was willing
to travel to Michigan to help execute whatever plan they decided on.”
Several members of the group (including Fox, Harris, Franks, and Caserta) met for “tactical training” in Munith, Mich., the document says. “Fox told them about the plan to storm the State Capitol and hang the Governor. Harris, Franks, Caserta and others indicated their assent either verbally or by nodding.”
Additional “field training” occurred in Cambria, Wis., north of Madison, the documents say, with the goal of “storm[ing] the Capitol and kidnap the Governor.” In Wisconsin, the defendants and others “constructed a ‘shoot house’ from plywood, shipping pallets and a door frame.”
“The conspirators also practiced combat first aid,” the plea agreement says, “including applying tourniquets, applying bandages, treating cuts, burns, and gunshot and shrapnel wounds they might receive during a firefight with law enforcement.” The document further outlines the group’s planned weapons and tactics, which included the use of a semiautomatic AR-15 with a shortened barrel, a silencer, and IEDs. Later, the documents state that the AR-15 had a 37-millimeter projectile launcher which the conspirators planned to use to take out a vehicle in the Governor’s motorcade.
Fox suggested that Whitmer’s private vacation home in northern Michigan might be a more surmountable target than the state capitol building.
Additional planning meetings occurred in Peebles, Ohio, near Cincinnati, the documents state:
At the meeting, Croft proposed firebombing a Michigan State Police outpost as a distraction while they stormed the Capitol. Fox told the conspirators that the Governor’s vacation home would be an easier target because it could be reached by road or water, and there were no police nearby. The conspirators agreed the Capitol would be too hard of a target and began planning instead to assault the vacation home.
Yet another meeting occurred in Munith, Mich., the document says. By August, the alleged conspirators thought it would be best for them to wait “until after the national election,” when the conspirators expected widespread civil unrest to make it easier for them to operate.” After that, several of the the defendants met in Lake Orion, Mich., over fears that law enforcement agents had infiltrated their group.
“During the meeting, a government informant observed that Fox seemed preoccupied with killing the Governor,” the documents assert. “Caserta responded, ‘The blood of tyrants needs to be shed,’ or words to that effect.”
By late August, the group began surveilling Whitmer’s home and sharing photos of the residence with one another. They suggested taking out a nearby bridge to stop law enforcement from responding. Fox allegedly posited that the group could make a “statement” by leaving Whitmer stranded in “the middle of Lake Michigan” on a boat with no engine.
Surveillance of the Governor’s vacation home — and further detailed planning — continued into September.
The group also obtained a taser and zip ties for “neutralizing” Whitmer.
An undercover FBI agent known only as “Red” in the documents facilitated the men’s arrest in Ypsilanti, Mich., in September.
As of the time of this writing, Whitmer has not released a statement about the guilty plea.
Read the full 20-page agreement below:
[Mugshot of Garbin via Kent County Sherrif’s Department]
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