Jury learns of rogue FBI informants in Whitmer kidnap case - but not full story

  • In US
  • 2022-08-11 17:40:28Z
  • By Detroit Free Press

On day two in the retrial of two men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, defense lawyers made sure the jury knew that rogue FBI players were involved - only jurors didn't get the full story.

Specifically, the defense didn't let the jury know that one of the rogue actors was kicked off the case because he was secretly helping the kidnap plotters, according to government filings.

That was Steve Robeson of Wisconsin, an FBI informant whom federal prosecutors dubbed a "double-agent," saying he was fired from the Whitmer case in 2020 after it was discovered that he was trying to help the kidnap plotters when he was supposed to be investigating them.

This combo of images provided by the Kent County, Mich.
This combo of images provided by the Kent County, Mich.  

Attacking the credibility of the FBI

The jury heard the names "Steve" and "Robeson" numerous times Thursday as defense lawyers disclosed that he was a "felon" indicted on a weapons charge after getting fired from the Whitmer case, hoping to taint his credibility and the reputation of the FBI. Robeson pleaded guilty and got two years of supervision.

But the jury heard nothing about his alleged "double-agent" ways.

According to court records, here is what the jury doesn't know about "Steve" and what led to his firing in October 2020, the same month the defendants were arrested in an FBI sting. Prosecutors allege:

  • Steve failed to let his FBI handlers know that suspects Kaleb Franks, Ty Garbin and a third man had recorded their nighttime surveillance of the governor's home on a dash-mounted camera.

  • When agents arrested three suspects in a sting, agents told Steve not to tell anyone, but he did, warning a fourth suspect in Delaware, Barry Croft, that the feds were after him.

  • After warning Croft, Steve told another undercover informant - not knowing they were undercover - to encrypt the training roster and said he "would still assist with the kidnapping."

  • Steve then called another informant named "Big Dan" - unaware that he, too, was undercover - and told him to destroy footage that Franks had taken casing the governor's house.

  • Steve later told Big Dan to throw Croft's gun in the lake and get rid of a vehicle that was used in staking out Whitmer's house.

More: Juror's daughter-in-law got high with kidnap defendant Fox near Whitmer cottage

More: F-bombs. Real bombs: Whitmer kidnap retrial kicks it up a notch

The prosecution opted not to use "Steve" as a witness in the first trial. The defense sought to force "Steve" to testify, alleging he was the "only direct link" that the defendants have to the alleged kidnap plot because of the informant's "actions, coordination and planning on behalf of the government."

Steve exercised his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and did not testify in the first trial, which ended with no convictions in April. Two defendants pleaded guilty and testified in the first trial. Two men were acquitted. The jury deadlocked on charges involving the other two, alleged ringleaders Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., triggering a mistrial. Fox and Croft are being retried in federal court in Grand Rapids.

It is not clear if Steve will testify in the retrial, though his secret recordings of the defendants' conversations were played in court Thursday, including one where Croft is heard saying: "I need explosives."

Prosecutors allege the defendants were plotting to blow up a bridge near Whitmer's vacation cottage to slow down law enforcement during the kidnapping. Croft, who  is accused of building explosive devices, including balloons filled with pennies, was heard talking about how far pennies blow out during a meeting that Robeson was at and recording.

"They're going to be very hot when they go out ...  they will go right through your skin. They got heat and they got velocity, they pop pretty good. It will give you a good 25 feet," Croft is heard saying about pennies in a recording played for the jury.

Croft also discussed tactics for pulling off the alleged kidnapping plan in that recording, including downing towers on a municipal runway to further slow down law enforcement, and have two people on standby "to grab the f------ governor."

"Whitmer. Whitmer. Whitmer," Croft is heard saying. "If seven men are prepared for the job, snipers can drop the guards before we approach the f----- house."

Unbeknownst to Croft, Steve, the alleged "double-agent," was recording him on a device that looked like a credit card.

Questions about informant's misconduct

In court Thursday, defense attorney Joshua Blanchard, who is representing Croft Jr., who's a Delaware trucker, asked an FBI agent about Robeson.

"You're aware that he was terminated ... for misconduct, correct?" Blanchard asked the agent. He then added that Robeson was indicted on a weapons offense, and wasn't reporting truthfully to the FBI.

"I don't have the specifics on that," the agent said.

"Robeson was a felon ... there were times when the FBI gave him a gun?" Blanchard asked.

"I'm not aware," the agent said, noting he was not Robeson's handler.

In court records, the defense also has alleged that Robeson "has a prolific history of being a snitch" - a word that came up several times during trial Tuesday.

According to testimony, it was a so-called snitch who helped the FBI crack the Whitmer case. He was known to the defendants as Big Dan - a military veteran who joined their militia to keep up on training, but said he became concerned when he heard the members talking about killing police officers.

Big Dan went on to work for the FBI, went undercover, and helped the government build its case. The defense, meanwhile, maintains that Big Dan tried to set up the defendants, and ran the whole show.

The misdeeds of undercover informants and agents has been an issue for the government, which has had to get rid of four undercover operatives involved in the Whitmer kidnap plot investigation, including an agent who was convicted of beating his wife following a hotel swingers party.

Two FBI agents have testified so far, including the agent who handled Croft's case. His testimony continues.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jury learns of rogue FBI informants in Whitmer kidnap trial


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