JACKSON, Mich. (AP) – Three men who forged an early alliance with the leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor were sentenced Thursday to lengthy prison terms for assisting him before the FBI broke up the scheme in 2020.
Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar returned to court weeks after being convicted of providing material support for a terrorist act, which carries a maximum term of 20 years, and two other crimes.
The first to be sentenced was Musico. He received 5-20 years for providing material support for a terrorist act, 5-20 years for gang membership, and 2 years for carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, all to run consecutively.
That means Musico will be eligible for parole in 12 years.
Next up was Morrison. Judge Wilson said he took into count Morrison’s statement in which he said he regretted putting himself in that position. However, Wilson said hindsight is always 20-20.
He handed Morrison 4-20 years on count one, 4-20 year on count two, and 2 years flat for the concealed carry charge, with the charges to run consecutively.
He will be eligible for parole in 10 years.
Last up was Bellar. He was given 5-20 years on count one and 4-20 years on count two, with those charges to run concurrently. He was given two years for the third charge, with 88 days credit and the charge to run consecutive.
That all adds up to a seven-year prison sentence.
The day started with both sides making their cases before Jackson County Judge Thomas Wilson before he made a decision on a minimum sentence to be served before the men are eligible for parole.
The prosecution argued for consecutive sentences for the men who were convicted for their roles, while the defense downplayed the roles the men played.
As the final statements were being made, the prosecution played a pre-recorded video of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
In her victim impact statement, Whitmer said she has not gone unimpacted from this incident, despite not being physically harmed.
The governor said she now scans crowds to look for possible issues and constantly worries about her safety and the safety of those around her.
Attorney General Dana Nessel also released a statement after the sentences were officially announced.
“The defendants’ ultimate goals were to kill police and elected officials and kidnap the Governor of Michigan. These extraordinarily violent ends, coupled with the unequivocal conviction from the jury, demand the maximum sentence,” said Nessel. “Appropriate consequences for illegal acts are necessary to deter criminal behavior. Law enforcement officers that put their lives on the line to protect our residents and communities, and those elected as part of our representative government, deserve to know those who threaten their safety will face the full penalty of the law.”
Wilson presided over the first batch of convictions in state court, following the high-profile conspiracy convictions of four others in federal court. Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were described as captains of an incredible plan to snatch Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home, seeking to inspire a U.S. civil war known as the “boogaloo.”
Whitmer was recently elected to a second term. Undercover FBI agents and informants were inside Fox’s group for months, and the scheme was broken up with 14 arrests in October 2020.
Morrison, Musico and Bellar were members of a paramilitary group known as the Wolverine Watchmen. They held gun training with Fox in rural Jackson County and shared his disgust for Whitmer, police and public officials, especially after COVID-19 restrictions disrupted the economy and triggered armed Capitol protests and anti-government belligerence.
But defense attorneys argued that the trio had cut ties with Fox before the Whitmer plot came into focus by late summer of 2020; Bellar had moved to South Carolina in July. The three men also didn’t travel with Fox to look for the governor’s second home or participate in a key training session inside a “shoot house” in Luther, Michigan.
“Mr. Bellar is clueless about any plot to kidnap the governor,” attorney Andrew Kirkpatrick said again in a court filing last week.
A jury, however, quickly returned guilty verdicts in October after hearing nine days of testimony, mostly evidence offered by a pivotal FBI informant, Dan Chappel, and federal agents. The jury agreed with prosecutors that the Wolverine Watchmen constituted a criminal gang.
Separately, in federal court in Grand Rapids, Fox and Croft face possible life sentences in two weeks. Two men who pleaded guilty received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence. Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were acquitted by a jury.
When the plot was foiled, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, after 19 months out of office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”