Dells man drops appeal, will be extradited to Michigan to face charges in governor kidnap plot

Brian Higgins

A Wisconsin man charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor has dropped an appeal of his extradition and will be heading east to face charges soon.

Brian Higgins, 52, of Wisconsin Dells, is among more than a dozen men, most from Michigan, charged with conspiracy, supporting terrorism and other counts related to what the FBI calls a thwarted plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and take her to Wisconsin to be tried for treason. The group was upset with restrictions she ordered to fight the spread of COVID-19.

They did some training in Wisconsin, according to prosecutors.

Another Wisconsin man, charged here federally last month with illegal possession of a sniper rifle, reportedly was also around the conspirators but was acting as an informant for the FBI.

Authorities say Higgins helped surveil Whitmer’s vacation home near Traverse City one night in September and provided a dash camera recorder and night vision goggles to the mission.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Higgins had argued he couldn’t be extradited to Michigan because Whitmer — as the alleged victim — was personally conflicted and shouldn’t have signed the extradition paperwork.

When Columbia County Circuit Judge Todd Hepler ruled in December that the extradition was proper, Higgins appealed. Though he had initially been free on $10,000 bail while he prepared to challenge extradition, he’s been jailed in Columbia County ever since Hepler denied the challenge.

Higgins’ attorney, Christopher Van Wagner of Madison, did persuade Hepler to allow Higgins to remain in Wisconsin pending the appeal, which would have taken months to complete.

But on April 15, Van Wagner filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with the Court of Appeals.

The spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she did not know the timetable for Higgins’ transfer to Michigan.

He is charged in Antrim County, population less than 25,000, just north of Traverse City. Three others charged in the plot have already been arraigned there. Lawyers from Nessel’s office, not the local prosecutor, are handling the cases.

Meanwhile, another Wisconsin man who has been identified by news media as an FBI informant in the kidnap plot case now faces federal charges of illegal gun possession.

Stephen Robeson, 57, of Oxford, was indicted in March in Madison on a single count of having a .50-caliber rifle, a powerful weapon that can shoot over a mile, sometimes referred to as a sniper rifle. Due to his several felony convictions, Robeson may not possess any firearms.

The Detroit News and a Detroit television station have identified Robeson as a key FBI informant in the plot against Whitmer. His name was briefly mentioned by a defense attorney during a January hearing for some of the defendants, and the News cites three unnamed sources as confirming Robeson’s central role in the FBI investigation.

The one-page federal indictment in Madison does not mention any connection of Robeson to the kidnap conspiracy. But prosecutors in the rifle possession case asked that all discovery be restricted.

The information prosecutors are obligated to share with Robeson’s lawyers “includes sensitive information, the unrestricted dissemination of which could adversely affect law enforcement interests and the privacy interests of third parties,” according to the government.

“The government specifically requests that discovery materials not be provided to the defendant,” reads the motion for a protective order. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker granted the request and ordered that the information not be shared with anyone outside the case.

Some legal observers told the Detroit News that Robeson’s indictment, long after his cooperation, could be a sign prosecutors will not be able to rely on Robeson as a witness.

According to the News, Robeson hosted some of the training prosecutors say the defendants did in Wisconsin. Oxford is less than 20 miles from Higgins’ home in Wisconsin Dells.

The News also reported that Robeson has served as a government informant in the past, citing coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal about his testimony in 1985 in a murder and arson trial involving the Ghost Riders motorcycle gang, after Robeson had shared a jail cell with one of the defendants.

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or bvielmetti@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.