I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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More about Hal Neilson– was he under pressure about cases? Is he trying to deflect attention?

This story was a couple of days ago in the Daily Journal.  It suggests problems in cases involving Muslim convenience store owners (which I’ve blogged about) and problems with the beef plant case (in which I was counsel for a defendant).  Because I was involved in the beef plant case– although its concluded– I’m going to hesitate to comment beyond this:  The suggestions in this article don’t surprise me at all.  This is a very interesting piece of reporting from Patsy Brumfield.

OXFORD – FBI agent Hal Neilson’s professional troubles apparently began some five years ago, when he says he discovered a U.S. attorney’s office investigation for “no reason” into nearly 150 north Mississippi residents of Middle Eastern origins and then later questioned the handling of the Mississippi Beef Plant investigation.

When Neilson reported his concerns, he asked his employer for protection against retaliation. At that time, he was the FBI’s resident agent in Oxford. As of today, he reportedly has never heard a response.

Monday, the 49-year-old career agent will answer a five-count federal indictment about some personal financial actions.

While neither he nor anyone else directly involved with his case will say much, if anything, about it, documents provided to the Daily Journal show that Neilson felt he was under attack for blowing the whistle.

U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee, appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush, leaves office Sunday. His permanent replacement has not been announced by the Obama administration.

In an e-mail to the Daily Journal on Wednesday, Greenlee acknowledged that Neilson’s “conduct” has been under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, and now the case will be handled by the U.S. attorney in Middle Louisiana.

“It is not unusual to seek recusal in such cases,” wrote Greenlee, who declined to comment further on Neilson’s accusations.

Neilson was indicted Jan. 13 by a federal grand jury, accused of lying about and failing to report his financial interests in the Oxford FBI Building. His arraignment is set before Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander.

Accusations in e-mail

Neilson’s accusations come from his own e-mail to Mississippi’s congressional delegation months ago and other documents supplied to the Daily Journal, though not by him.

In the messages, he voices his concern about his job and why he believes his relationship with Greenlee fell apart starting about 2004.

Chiefly, Neilson points to his opposition to the so-called Convenience Store Initiative, which involved the Middle Easterners, and internal pressure about the beef plant case.

The beef plant case came in two phases – the mismanagement of the Yalobusha County facility, which left the state holding $50 million in loan guarantees, and accusations that three Georgia businessmen improperly sought to influence then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove as they sought involvement in the project.

Five people went to jail and the questions surrounding the never-indicted Musgrove contributed to his defeat in a U.S. Senate campaign.

The FBI began its investigation into the beef plant in early 2005. Neilson described himself as supervisor of a task force involving the FBI and the state auditor’s office.

After leading the effort for about a year, he was removed from the investigation and told by his supervisor that Greenlee complained the case was at a standstill.

Neilson apparently told his supervisor that any holdups were due to attempts by the U.S. attorney’s office to steer the investigation.

Greenlee did not respond to this claim.

Store initiative

Neilson’s other problem, he was told, surrounded “issues” with Greenlee’s Convenience Store Initiative.

Documents show 146 of the region’s residents of Middle Eastern origins were targeted, and Neilson said he heard from his fellow agents that Greenlee’s office was using the federal grand jury to obtain documents and conduct investigations on these people.

According to documents with the e-mail to Mississippi members of Congress, Neilson said his agents perceived these investigations to be for “no reason,” in violation of the Civil Rights and Privacy acts and a possible abuse of the federal grand jury.

Neilson claims he sent records of what was going on to his superiors in Jackson for them to address.

“I never heard any results from this submission to Jackson,” he said in this e-mail.

That is when, Neilson wrote, he began to come under “constant attacks,” and endured attempts to undermine him and his conduct of investigations.

He wrote that he was intentionally excluded from standard investigative matters, even though he managed the FBI’s northern district; that the U.S. attorney’s office went around him in the judicial bribery investigation of then-Oxford attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and others; and that in early 2008 Greenlee asked the FBI director to remove Neilson from his district.

No details from FBI

An FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday declined to comment on matters between the agency and an employee.

“A subsequent FBI Inspection investigation followed and found absolutely no wrongdoing on my part,” Neilson’s e-mail said.

A few months later, Neilson wrote, he learned he was under investigation about a 2005 investment and its financial disclosure – which bypassed the FBI to the Department of Justice’s inspector general and the Baton Rouge, La., U.S. attorney.

Neilson told the congressional delegation he received an “oral” OK from the FBI to make the investment, and offered to take a polygraph and leave the area to get away from the situation.

“It has cost me my lifetime savings for my four children’s college education and more,” he noted. “I have just one year left to retire and am concerned if I will even make it.”

On Sept. 16, 2008, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III dispatched a message emphasizing his commitment “to protecting employees who report organizational wrongdoing.”

“I will not tolerate reprisals or intimidation,” Mueller wrote in the two-page document.

The Mississippi FBI’s Jackson office reports Neilson is still an FBI employee, although a spokesman declined to say where he is or what happened with his protection request.

“I had hoped the FBI would stand up and protect me against these attacks as well, but they are still ongoing though the FBI keeps me employed,” he wrote in the e-mail. “There has to be someone out there who can stand up and stop these ongoing attacks.”

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