Defense in Whitmer kidnap case seeks trial delay

By Robert Snell

DETROIT — Defense lawyers late Wednesday asked a judge for a 90-day delay of next month's trial of five men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying they need more time to prepare and investigate the conduct of FBI agents who thwarted the alleged conspiracy.

The request comes five weeks before the Oct. 12 trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, one of the most closely watched cases involving alleged violent extremism in the country. Prosecutors say the accused plotters were driven by anger over state restrictions on travel and business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the request, defense lawyers need more time to investigate recent developments involving the conduct of FBI agents assigned to the case and to probe the government's use of at least 12 confidential informants and undercover investigators. The lawyers say trial preparation has been complicated by voluminous evidence, including 2 terabytes of information provided by the government in late August.

"The timing and organization of the discovery productions have created significant problems for the defense in preparing for the current trial date," the lawyers wrote.

Prosecutors must respond by next Wednesday and U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker will consider the request on Sept. 17.

The five men face a range of charges, including kidnapping and weapons of mass destruction conspiracies, and face up to life in prison if convicted. Another eight people have been charged in state court with crimes related to the kidnapping plot and threats to overthrow the government.

The defense request comes amid questions about agent misconduct and whether informants were driving the alleged conspiracy.

The lawyer for accused kidnap plotter Brandon Caserta of Canton Township suggested an FBI informant entrapped the men. The defense also has questioned whether another FBI agent had an undisclosed financial incentive.

Attorney Josh Blanchard, who represents accused plotter Barry Croft, raised questions in July about whether the FBI was trying to sabotage defense teams ahead of the landmark trial. He cited an audio recording of lead investigator FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola talking about creating "disarray and chaos" for defense lawyers, whom he labeled "paid liars."

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, have decided not to use testimony from FBI Agent Richard Trask, who was charged with beating his wife this summer following a swingers party and who ranted about Donald Trump on social media last year, calling the president a douchebag and "piece of s---."

There are other problems with evidence, defense lawyers have argued.

Much of the evidence — which includes more than 1,000 hours of surveillance and audio recordings — supplied to defense teams is duplicative and some files are missing information, according to the filing.

"Many of the recordings involve overlapping speakers and are of poor quality," defense lawyers wrote.

They have hired a court reporter to transcribe about 25 hours of recordings but the process is slow and unfinished.

"It is not likely that the scope of work, as currently defined, can be completed prior to the final pretrial conference on September 23 ... " or the start of trial, the lawyers wrote.

Also, the defense team's expert on military tactics quit Aug. 30, citing pretrial publicity.

"The defense attorneys as a group have been trying to replace this expert, but as of this writing only have leads but no commitment," defense lawyers wrote.

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