by Scott McClallen
After the trial of four men accused of hatching a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer secured no federal convictions, eight more men face state charges that could lead to life in prison.
On April 8, a federal jury acquitted two men and deadlocked on two other alleged ringleaders, striking a blow to the government that spent more than $80,000 of taxpayer money to pay confidential informants. The two defendants who deadlocked the jury will face a new trial.
Meanwhile, eight additional men face state charges.
The Jackson County defendants, Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico, face charges of gang membership and providing material support for terrorism. Each of those charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Both men also face felony gun charges, which could add another two years to each of their potential sentences if convicted.
They await an Oct. 10 trial.
Their state co-defendants – Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Brian Higgins, Michael Null, and William Null – await a preliminary exam in Antrim County, which is set for Aug. 29 in the 86th District Court.
The men are accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer from her summer lakefront house in Elk Rapids.
Prosecutors accuse the men, angry over Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions, of attempting to secure a bomb to destroy a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home to slow first responders. However, the men never purchased the $4,000 bomb from another Federal Bureau of Investigation informant.
Defense attorneys in the federal trial described the “plot” as “stoned crazy talk,” and asserted that FBI influence pushed the plot.
FBI informant Dan Chappel was paid more than $60,000 by the FBI for seven months of work, including a $3,300 laptop and a smartwatch.
Prosecutors allege another informant – who was paid nearly $20,000 – turned “double agent,” disobeyed FBI rules by illegally purchasing a firearm, undermined the investigation, offered to use a drone to commit domestic terrorism, and warned one of the alleged plotters before an arrest.
FBI missteps dogged the most high-profile domestic terrorism case of the decade. The FBI fired its lead agent after he was convicted of domestic abuse, and it convicted another alleged informant-turned-double-agent.
Attorney General Dana Nessel declined to comment on the result of the federal jury trial.
“Given the state case remains open and ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment on the verdict in the federal case,” Nessel said in a statement.
In the federal trial, two men pleaded guilty and turned state witnesses via plea deals.
JoAnne Huls, Whitmer’s chief of staff, was disappointed in the ruling.
“There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes,” Huls said in a statement. “Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.”
However, the combination of FBI mistakes and such irregular behavior as allowing informants to break the law but not arrest them until a year later cast doubt on the alleged plot.
“We have a saying in my office,” Special Agent Henrik Impola told a confidential informant on December 10, 2020. “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Gretchen Whitmer” by Gretchen Whitmer. Background Photo “Courtroom” by Karen Neoh. CC BY 2.0.