FBI undercover agents must use real names in Whitmer kidnapping trial
To this day, those accused of the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer do not know who “Mark” and “Red” really are.
The two undercover FBI agents infiltrated their group, posing as one of them, but their real names were kept secret.
Not for a long time.
Despite government objections, a judge ruled Thursday that the two FBI agents will have to use their real names when testifying in Whitmer’s upcoming kidnapping trial.
While the case has largely been conducted in secret, with undercover informants and agents spying on the defendant, the judge stressed that the trial will be open and transparent.
“Making it clear to the jury and the public that inside the courtroom nothing is secret and everything is out in the open will best ensure fairness during the trial and acceptance and respect what the jury will ultimately decide,” Chief U.S. District Judge Robert said. Jonker wrote.
According to Jonker’s ruling, the government will have to provide the names of FBI witnesses to the defense one day before they testify.
According to court records, “Mark” posed as a resident of the Upper Peninsula and was instructed by the defendants, among other things, to locate the governor’s summer residence. The other undercover officer, “Red”, was introduced as a demolitions expert weeks before the suspects’ 2020 arrests.
According to the government, the defendants had made several efforts to recruit independent bombmakers, and “Red” was offered to the group in this capacity to mitigate the likelihood of a real bombing.
The judge’s decision is a blow to the government, whose case has come under fire for the alleged misconduct of several informants and FBI agents, including two who were expelled from the case.
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In the “Mark” and “Red” case, the prosecution asked permission for the two agents to use their pseudonyms during the trial and not reveal their real names to the defense. The agents are involved in other terrorism investigations, prosecutors argued, and disclosing their identities could hamper those investigations and compromise their safety.
But the defense argued that the defendants had a right to confront their accusers and know who they were. Moreover, they argued, unfairly concealing their identity prevents the defense from conducting thorough cross-examinations.
The judge agreed.
“At this point in the case, the court finds that the balance of interests tips firmly in favor of openness,” Jonker wrote. “It’s time for all appearances and pretense to stop and for the prosecution to present the evidence in an open forum with witnesses testifying using their true identities.”
Jonker noted that he understands the government’s concern for the safety of its agents, but that did not justify hiding their real names.
“As to the security risk to witnesses, the court is sympathetic,” Jonker wrote, “but also aware that such risk is inherent in an investigative model that relies on undercover officers.”
The trial is scheduled to begin March 8 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Prosecutors said four men plotted to kidnap Whitmer out of anger over his pandemic orders and mask mandates, and discussed blowing up a bridge near his vacation home to slow law enforcement. But the defense argues that there was no plan to kidnap the governor, that the defendants were set up by the FBI and that any negative comments they made about Whitmer were nothing but puffs, big talkers blowing off steam.
The prosecution, however, argues that the defendants did more than talk, but actually took action to carry out their plan, including breaking into Whitmer’s vacation home twice, drawing maps, buying night vision goggles and communicating in secret conversations to avoid detection by law enforcement.
The prosecution also has two star witnesses: two defendants who have previously reached settlements, pleaded guilty and plan to testify against the others.
Those on trial are Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville; Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion; Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Canton; and Barry Croft, 46, of Delaware.
Tresa Baldas: [email protected]