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NIU's Williams: 'No idea' why FBI interested

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 3:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 4:33 p.m. CDT
Caption
( Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com )
An FBI official and NIU police official walk back to the University Police and Public Safety building. The FBI and Illinois State Police served a search warrant at the building at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
Caption
(File photo)
Eddie Williams

DeKALB – Eddie Williams released a statement through his attorney on Friday stating he has no idea why he is a subject of interest in the FBI investigation into the Northern Illinois Police Department. At the same time, Northern Illinois University has placed Williams on paid leave.

“Dr. Williams and I have conferred and agree that because he oversees a broad range of administrative matters he will take this step until resolution of the investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict or any question concerning the university’s response to this matter,” NIU President John Peters said in a news statement.

Williams, who has worked at Northern Illinois University for more than 40 years and is the university's executive vice president and chief of operations for finance and facilities, referenced his role in developing affordable housing in DeKalb in the statement.

"Eden’s Gardens, a privately funded, two-phase project, is not affiliated in any way with Northern Illinois University, and it does not provide student housing," the statement read. "Its sole purpose is to meet the housing needs of those in the community with limited financial resources. 

"Prospective Eden’s Gardens resident screening has been conducted for more than five years by Screening Reports Inc., a national provider of background screening service to the multi-family housing industry."  

Williams' statement seems to dovetail with reports that the federal agents who searched the NIU police department on Wednesday were investigating whether the police's criminal records database was improperly used to conduct background checks on prospective applicants for Section 8 housing.

“Dr. Williams is cooperating fully with the authorities and Eden’s Gardens has provided all materials requested," the statement said, "but Dr. Williams has no idea why he or the project is the subject of any government interest.”

You can view a copy of the search warrant in the case here.

The FBI and other authorities removed Northern Illinois University police department files dating back to January 2005 while searching the campus station Wednesday, NIU President John Peters said Friday morning.

Peters discussed Wednesday's FBI search of the the campus police station in an email to students and faculty Friday morning. The email can be found here: http://www.niutoday.info/2013/03/08/president-delivers-email-message-to-niu-community/

"The search warrant issued to the university was primarily focused around police department records and information," Peters wrote in the email. "It is troubling to be on the receiving end of a search warrant and investigation by any law enforcement agency, as it is impossible at this early stage to determine what specific actions may have occurred that necessitate such a response."

FBI agents and state police, joined by officials from the U.S. Education Department’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. Wednesday and worked throughout the day. The inspectors general at federal agencies typically investigate fraud or waste of agency funds or in agency programs.

The searches follow several controversies to hit campus over the past 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 February by new State’s Attorney Richard Schmack.

FBI Chicago media coordinator Joan Hyde declined to comment Wednesday on the search or the underlying investigation. Hyde said the FBI typically does 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.

Peters also announced in a news release that Dr. Steven Cunningham, NIU's current vice president for administration and human resource services, will serve as acting chief of operations and executive vice president of finance and facilities.

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