Judge wants to know why men tied to Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot were moved to federal prisons

DETROIT — A judge wants to know why two men convicted of secondary roles in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been transferred to federal prisons out of state.

Paul Bellar and Joe Morrison are entitled to appeal their convictions following a trial on state charges in Jackson County in 2022. But their lawyers said it’s extremely hard to work with them hundreds of miles away.

They said the distance interferes with a right to have access to Michigan courts.

The transfer is “mind-boggling” and “appalling,” said Michael Faraone, who represents Morrison.

“Whatever we may say about this case, however we may feel about it, I think we can agree we’re not dealing with al-Qaida,” Faraone told a judge Friday, referring to the Middle East terrorist group.

Bellar, Morrison and Pete Musico were found guilty of providing material support for a terrorist act and other charges. They had no direct role in the kidnapping conspiracy but had held gun training with leader Adam Fox and shared his disgust for Whitmer, police and public officials, especially after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.

Musico was sentenced to at least 12 years in prison. Morrison got 10 years, and Bellar received seven.

Morrison was shipped to a federal prison in Illinois, and Bellar is in Pennsylvania. Musico is in West Virginia, though he hasn’t formally challenged that placement like the other two men.

“Under what legal authority did the MDOC send him there?” Faraone said, referring to Morrison and the state Corrections Department. “I haven’t seen an answer to that.”

Appellate lawyer Ron Ambrose said trial transcripts sent to Bellar through the mail have been returned.

“Trying to communicate with Mr. Bellar is almost nonexistent,” Ambrose said, according to courtroom video posted online.

Assistant Attorney General John Pallas said he didn’t know specifically why the three men were transferred out of Michigan, other “than general safety concerns.”

“Without that information, it feels like we’re flying blind,” Judge Thomas Wilson said.

The state typically pays around $100 a day to the federal government to house a prisoner, Corrections Department spokesman Kyle Kaminski told The Associated Press. That would add up to roughly $110,000 a year for the three men.

Kaminski, citing the litigation, declined to address why the state shipped Morrison, Bellar and Musico out of state. There is a federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

In court, Pallas pledged to help the lawyers improve their ability to talk to the men. The judge, however, set a hearing for Dec. 1 to get answers and an update.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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