Problems continue to pile up for federal prosecutors in the lead up to the March 8 trial for the five men charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Prosecutors confirmed in mid-December they would not call on three FBI agents closely linked to the investigation due to allegations of personal and professional misconduct. Also in December, a key undercover informant involved in the case was charged with fraud in an unrelated case in Wisconsin.
In a pair of explosive filings submitted on Christmas Day and on Wednesday, defense attorneys presented evidence they said proves the FBI and its confidential informants "conceived and controlled every aspect" of the plot to kidnap Whitmer.
"These defendants had no desire whatsoever to kidnap anyone," the defense attorneys said in their filing.
The defendants, members of the Three Percenters and Wolverine Watchmen anti-government militia groups, would have never plotted to kidnap Whitmer and blow up a bridge near her home had they not been entrapped by overzealous government agents, the defense attorneys argued in the filing. They also asked a federal court to dismiss the case.
"The government wouldn't drop the idea, and the CHSs [Confidential Human Sources] continued to broach plans — despite official government admonitions barring the suggestion of such plans," the defense motion read. "The CHSs' handlers pulled the puppet strings the entire time."
New evidence in the defense attorneys' filings, which include details of communications between FBI agents and their sources embedded in the militia groups, marks another setback for federal prosecutors. Prosecutors previously rejected allegations the defendants were entrapped by the FBI and maintained they were predisposed to carry out the kidnapping scheme.
Prosecutors disclosed earlier in December they would not call on three FBI agents at the center of the kidnapping investigation when the trial begins on March 8. Special Agent Jayson Chambers, who served as a handler for an FBI informant during the investigation, was dropped after Buzzfeed News reported he owned a private investigative firm unbeknownst to the FBI, in which he tried to parlay his law enforcement experience into multimillion-dollar private contracts.
Another FBI handler involved in the investigation, Henrik Impola, was dropped after defense attorneys alleged he committed perjury in an unrelated case. Prosecutors said the allegation was unfounded but said in a Dec. 17 filing they would not call on him during the trial.
The former lead agent in the case, former FBI agent Richard Trask, was fired from the agency in September after he was charged with beating his wife upon his return from a swingers party. Trask also posted rants against former President Donald Trump on social media during the investigation.
Also in December, a key FBI informant who allegedly helped the FBI recruit targets and organize meetings to further the kidnapping scheme was charged in Wisconsin for fraud in an unrelated case. The informant, Stephen Robeson, also helped finance travel expenses for people to attend events linked to the kidnapping plot, Buzzfeed News reported.
FBI AGENT TOLD INFORMANT AMONG ALLEGED WHITMER KIDNAPPING PLOTTERS TO LIE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY SAYS
Transcripts of communications detailed in the defense attorneys' Christmas Day filing suggest the idea to kidnap Whitmer originated from government informants during a series of meetings with members of the militia groups beginning in early June 2020. The defense attorneys said FBI informants browbeat their clients into going along with the plan after initially expressing apprehension.
The five defendants face life in prison if convicted. A sixth man, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in August to six years in prison.
The alleged mastermind of the scheme, Adam Fox, said in August the idea to kidnap Whitmer was "planted" in his head by FBI informants. He emphasized one informant known as "Big Dan."
Defense attorneys said Dan, who was paid over $50,000 for his service in the case as an informant, used FBI funds to finance travel for the defendants to attend a "field training exercise" in Wisconsin where the kidnapping plot was allegedly hatched.
The defense also alleged that Dan's FBI handler, Chambers, directed him to propose the defendants commit other acts of violence against Whitmer after they initially expressed apprehension to the kidnapping plot. On July 27, 2020, for example, Dan suggested to Fox that someone ought to shoot a round into the window of Whitmer's home and mail the casing to the news media.
And on Sept. 5, 2020, Chambers texted Dan: "Mission is to kill the governor specifically."
"The government conceived and controlled every aspect of the alleged plot," the defense said in the filing. "Three months after the government proposed kidnapping, and two months after the defendants' strident repudiation of the idea, and a month after the defendants reiterated their repudiation, the government's agents continued to push to shape a kidnapping plan, even trying to elevate it to murder."
Prosecutors said in August that the defense took Chambers's text to Dan out of context.
"The omitted context shows it was in fact a question, not an edict, because it was immediately followed by an answer: 'That's on the first call,'" prosecutors said.
During the investigation, Chambers was listed as the owner of a private cyber intelligence firm called Exeintel. Marketing materials for the firm obtained by Buzzfeed News show Chambers boasted about his company's "online undercover techniques," such as the use of "undercover online personas" in attempts to earn business. Chambers sought a private security contract valued at $6 million in a November 2019 business proposal that identified Chambers as the CEO of Exeintel.
A now-deleted Twitter account that purported to be operated by the CEO of Exeintel posted cryptic tweets that referred to the Whitmer kidnapping investigation before arrests were made in October 2020, BuzzFeed News reported. Hours after arrests were made, the account tweeted: "Don't worry Michigan I told ya A LOT more coming soon."
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Defense attorneys alleged Chambers hatched the Whitmer kidnapping scheme to drum up business for Exeintel, which dissolved in late October.
Prosecutors filed a motion on Dec. 17 asking the court to bar the defense from bringing up any evidence related to Exeintel during the trial, arguing there was no evidence showing Chambers had a financial stake in the outcome of the case. They also said neither Chambers nor the FBI had control over the Exeintel Twitter account.