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FBI, state police execute search warrant at NIU

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 9:13 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 12:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Bursaw — kbursaw@shawmedia.com)
FBI and Illinois State Police enter the University Police and Public Safety building at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

DeKALB – State and federal law enforcement officials offered few details Wednesday about why they spent the day searching Northern Illinois University’s police station.

FBI agents, joined by officials from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, arrived about 8 a.m. and worked throughout the day. The inspectors general at federal agencies typically investigate alleged fraud or waste of agency funds or in agency programs.

FBI Chicago Media Coordinator Joan Hyde declined to comment on the search or the underlying investigation. Hyde said the FBI typically did not announce searches, but decided to issue a news release about this one around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday to avoid passers-by noticing the police presence and worrying about a large emergency.

“No arrests have been made nor charges filed with respect to the investigation,” the release said. “Due to the ongoing nature of the matter, no additional information is available at this time.”

The searches are another controversy to hit campus this year, some of which have involved the police department.

Two NIU administrators, Robert Albanese and John Gordon, reportedly were under investigation for appropriating university property for their personal use when they quit in July. An employee filed a grievance complaining of being assigned to clean Gordon’s home while working for the university.   Albanese was the former associate vice president of the Division of Finance, Facilities and Operations, and Gordon is the former director of the Convocation Center.

University police also led the investigation into the “coffee fund,” an off-the-books repository for proceeds from the sale of NIU-owned scrap metal – some of it from building projects – and other materials that NIU officials have said was used for retirement parties and other office expenses. Eight current NIU employees were indicted in connection to that investigation in December; six have returned to work and two remain on paid leave.

In February, longtime Police Chief Donald Grady was fired for the department’s mishandling of a rape case against one of his own officers. Former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin, 25, of Northbrook, is accused of raping a student off-campus while he was off duty in October 2011. Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan – who testified in court that he mistakenly placed two witness statements in Rifkin’s personnel file, rather than giving them to prosecutors – remains on paid leave.

Sexual assault charges against Rifkin were dropped by former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell, but were reinstated in Febraury by new State’s Attorney Richard Schmack.

Grady’s attorney, Michael Fox, said the former chief welcomed the investigation.

“[Grady] welcomes any thorough examination of the documents that are kept and maintained at the police department,” Fox said. “He feels the documents will reflect well on his police department. We sit here not knowing what was taken, but apparently quite a bit was taken.”

Grady had requested FBI assistance with financial aspects of the coffee fund, while NIU President John Peters asked state police to review NIU police procedures and investigations after a local judge ruled NIU police purposefully withheld evidence from prosecutors in the Rifkin matter.

“We don’t know whether the records were seized to investigate what his department has done or investigations his department has done,” Fox said.

State Police parked a mobile command unit near the Police & Public Safety Building at 375 Wirtz Drive, and law enforcement officers were seen taking items out of the building and into the vehicle. Before the search, several police agencies met near Goodwill, 1037 S. Annie Glidden Road to discuss the search, and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office served documents related to it, authorities said.

The building that was searched includes NIU’s information technology services department and the health services department, but NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the Department of Police and Public Safety was the only target of the search. The university is cooperating fully with the matter.

Bill Nicklas, NIU’s acting director of public safety, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

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