A Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper arrested a Wal-Mart truck driver as part of a scheme to murder him and stage a crash in order to collect a settlement from the company, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday.
Franklin Ryle Jr. stopped the driver while patrolling near Douglas in January, and after taking him into custody based on a bogus warrant, let him go, states the affidavit, which had been under court seal since late March. The next day, Ryle allegedly told another trooper that his plan couldn't involve a Wal-Mart truck because those vehicles had global positioning systems installed in them.
That trooper told state agents Ryle had discussed plans to stop a truck, kill the driver and stage a crash where his wife would die. According to the plan, he would then sue the company for millions and collect insurance money.
Federal authorities unsealed the affidavit Tuesday morning, at the same time they released a three-page indictment charging Ryle with violating the truck driver's civil rights by arresting and kidnapping him. Ryle is also charged with carrying a gun during the incident and soliciting another Highway Patrol trooper to take part in the crime.
Ryle, 41, appeared Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held without bond and could face life behind bars if convicted.
As of Tuesday, Ryle was no longer employed by the Highway Patrol, said the patrol's administrator, Col. Sam Powell. Ryle, a 12-year patrol veteran who was based in Douglas, had been on leave since January when patrol officials asked state agents to investigate him.
"It is basically out of our hands, and we are going to try to move forward," Powell said.
Ryle's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender James Barrett, did not respond to a message left at his office.
Devan Henderson, the trooper Ryle is charged with soliciting to engage in the kidnapping, was placed on paid administrative leave in February, Powell said. Henderson told an FBI agent in January that he and Ryle had smuggled steroids from Mexico into the United States in 2003 or 2004, according to the affidavit.
Powell said he was not aware that any charges had been filed against Henderson. Ryle's indictment, which a federal grand jury returned last week, makes no mention of the steroid allegations.
The Star-Tribune could not find a telephone number for Henderson, a Casper-based trooper.
Ryle's indictment came nearly two months after state and federal agents arrested him in Douglas. Until Tuesday, federal officials had released few details about the alleged kidnapping.
Brother-in-law informed patrol
The investigation of Ryle began in mid-January after his brother-in-law - a Casper police officer - contacted Highway Patrol officials in Cheyenne to report that Ryle had planned to collect a settlement from Wal-Mart by staging an accident involving his patrol car and a company truck, according to the affidavit, which was signed by FBI Special Agent Richard Fanelli.
On Jan. 15, Wal-Mart truck driver Richard Smidt showed up at a Highway Patrol office in Cheyenne and told an official he'd been stopped by Ryle a week earlier while driving on Interstate 25 near Douglas. Smidt said Ryle arrested him on a Colorado warrant and drove him to Douglas in his patrol car.
Smidt told the Highway Patrol that Ryle stopped at a home in Douglas and went inside for 10 minutes, leaving him handcuffed in the car. Ryle eventually returned and drove Smidt back to his truck and released him, claiming there had been a mistake about the warrant.
Ryle had his hand on his gun when he arrested Smidt, according to the affidavit. Smidt also reported that on the drive to Douglas, the trooper seemed preoccupied by several phone calls and did something with the dashboard-mounted video camera.
The Highway Patrol asked the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to look into the matter on Jan. 16. Two state agents spoke with Ryle the same day, and according to the affidavit, the trooper admitted to stopping a Wal-Mart truck and arresting the driver on Jan. 8 near Douglas. He claimed a radio check revealed there was a warrant for the driver, but after driving to Douglas, a second check indicated the warrant information was incorrect.
The agents also questioned Ryle about why the traffic stop hadn't been recorded by his patrol car's camera. Ryle said he must have forgotten to insert a hard drive into the new camera, according to the affidavit.
In the same interview, Ryle denied planning to use the Wal-Mart truck to stage an accident.
Investigators also spoke with Henderson, who told them Ryle had asked him in December if he wanted to participate in a plan to "get rid" of Ryle's wife, according to the affidavit. Henderson told investigators he thought Ryle was joking around.
Henderson told an FBI agent he didn't report Ryle's behavior to anyone because he wasn't sure if Ryle was serious and he didn't want to be considered a rat if the statements turned out to be a joke, the affidavit states.
GPS corroborates story
Thanks to a GPS unit in the Wal-Mart truck, investigators determined the vehicle was stopped near Douglas from roughly 6 p.m. until 7:10 p.m. on Jan. 8.
Ryle's wife told investigators Ryle called her at about 6:10 p.m. that day saying he had the "opportunity of a lifetime," according to the affidavit. He allegedly told her to take their children to her mother's home and then go to the couple's home and await further instructions.
When he arrived, Ryle told her he had found a Wal-Mart truck stopped on Interstate 25 and the driver was dead, the affidavit states. He told her he was going to park his patrol car on the side of the highway, then crash the Wal-Mart truck into it. He explained that he would smash the truck driver's head against the windshield to make sure it appeared the driver died during the crash.
After dropping off her children at her mother's house, Ryle's wife said she waited at her house for further instructions from her husband. He called a short time later and said he had returned to the truck and found the driver alive. The driver, he claimed, was taken to the hospital and he told her to never speak of the incident, according to the affidavit.
"(Ryle's wife) said that after thinking about the events of January 8, she became concerned that her husband may have been planning to kill her with the Wal-Mart truck," Special Agent Fanelli wrote. "She stated her husband had been asking her to take out a life insurance policy on herself."
Ryle's wife filed a protection order against him Jan. 16 in Converse County Circuit Court. She alleged he physically abused her and threatened her with a gun.
She filed for divorce the following month, citing irreconcilable differences.
In January, Henderson told two DCI agents that Ryle had several plans to kill his wife, according to the affidavit. One involved stopping a Wal-Mart or a Halliburton truck, killing the driver by breaking his neck or choking him, then staging a crash that killed her.
Ryle has been in the public eye before. In 2006, he shot a suspect who allegedly aimed a gun at him and attempted to run over another trooper during a pursuit. The suspect survived and Ryle, after being put on leave pending an investigation, was cleared to return to duty.
The same year, Ryle stopped a Ford Explorer near Douglas that had more than $1 million of cocaine and heroin inside.