On and off for three years, the FBI used a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy as a confidential informant, investigating his claims of rampant corruption within the department, even wiring him up with a hidden recording device, according to interviews, and once-secret FBI documents recently obtained by the Better Government Association.
FBI officials now characterize the information provided by Deputy Scott Milliman, a 50-year-old veteran of the sheriff’s office, as dubious, and point out that nobody was prosecuted based on it.
“We investigated the allegations, if there was evidence to support the filing of criminal charges, they would have been filed,” said Ross Rice, a spokesman for the Chicago office of the FBI.
“I’m not going to say his allegations were unfounded or founded—I don’t know. I do know there wasn’t enough evidence” to merit charges, added Rice.
Milliman, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 14 years and has been on leave since December, sees himself as being retaliated against for stepping forward, and fears he ultimately could be out of a job. “You blow the whistle and you’re gone, that’s clearly what happened with me.” Milliman was put on leave after he leveled some of the same corruption accusations in a deposition for a lawsuit brought by a former colleague.
Some law enforcement officials have privately questioned the mental stability of Milliman, according to Milliman and BGA interviews.
Milliman acknowledged that he had brain cancer years ago, and surgery, but he said he recovered fully and has been working for the sheriff’s office ever since, patrolling the far northwest suburbs.
Milliman said his cancer experience forced him to soul search, and ultimately come clean with the alleged dirty dealing inside the sheriff’s department—some of which, he said, he was involved in.
“I just wanted to clear the table God gave me another chance to be around,” Milliman told the BGA recently. “I wanted to do it right, I didn’t want to end up in federal prison.”
The allegations outlined in the FBI files obtained by the BGA are wide-ranging and serious, involving drug trafficking, bank fraud, bribes, even a murder plot. The names of most individuals in the documents were redacted by the FBI, which turned them over in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the BGA last summer.
Despite its investment in this investigation—apparently involving considerable time, money and resources—the FBI has bent over backwards to dispel any notion that Sheriff Keith Nygren or his office remains under a dark cloud of suspicion. Robert Grant, head of Chicago’s FBI office, took the somewhat unusual step of sending the sheriff’s office a letter earlier this year acknowledging the agency’s apparently now-completed probe, and saying it didn’t yield anything worthy of prosecution.
The FBI documents indicate that Milliman cooperated with federal agents on and off from 2006 to 2009.
Nygren didn’t return a phone call, but his attorney James Sotos said Milliman’s allegations are ludicrous.
Sotos noted that none of the allegations of criminal wrong-doing have been substantiated by authorities. Aside from the FBI, the Illinois State Police also initiated a preliminary probe last year based on information from Milliman and others, and nothing has come from that.
In any event, some important questions remain, including:
- What’s in the rest of Milliman’s FBI files? Responding to the BGA’s open records request, which Milliman gave written permission to release , the FBI told the BGA that 368 pages of documents were reviewed. But just 187 were released, and many of those pages were heavily redacted.
- Why did the FBI cut Milliman loose? One source indicated it was because his information was deemed non-credible, while the FBI files seem to indicate that his cooperation ended, at least for a time, when Milliman revealed his undercover status to somebody, compromising his effectiveness.
- Did federal authorities, accidentally or otherwise, “out” Milliman’s undercover status to the sheriff’s office when he still was working with the FBI? Milliman said that happened, and that his handler was apologetic at the time. Rice said “we never revealed his identity to anyone.”
Meantime, Nygren likely will be around for a while to prove his detractors wrong. He was re-elected to a four-year term this past fall.
This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.