By Patsy R. Brumfield
OXFORD – Then-U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee wrongly retaliated after Oxford FBI chief Hal Neilson reported what he believed to be improper actions by the region’s top government lawyer, the U.S. Department of Justice says.
Neilson subsequently was suspended from his post and indicted by a federal grand jury, although a jury later acquitted him of some counts and outside prosecutors decided to drop the others.
The 34-page report from the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility comes some six years after Neilson complained to his FBI superiors that he was targeted because he officially criticized Greenlee.
Greenlee could not be reached for comment on the report, dated Sept. 27, 2013, which is marked “sensitive and confidential,” not to be distributed without OPR’s prior approval.
But during a subsequent federal investigation, Greenlee denied he retaliated against Neilson.
Tuesday, Neilson responded strongly, saying he disagrees with some parts of the report “but the most important thing was the retaliation – it is a vindication that actions were taken against me because of Jim Greenlee’s vendetta.”
Both men are in private law practice now in Oxford.
The OPR report, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily Journal, states that Neilson’s 2006 communications with his superiors “were a contributing factor” in Greenlee’s 2007 questions up the chain of command about Neilson’s real estate interests and Greenlee’s 2008 recommendation to the FBI director that Neilson be transferred out of the Northern District of Mississippi.
The findings are a mixed bag of results for the two men, though Neilson said he will appeal one issue.
Seven years ago, in public law enforcement roles, they came to loggerheads over at least two investigations:
• A U.S. Attorney Office-initiated case called “Convenience Store Initiative,” which Neilson claimed was an improper national security investigation with overtones of racial profiling and other civil rights violations.
• The notorious 2005 “Beef Plant Scandal,” which Neilson claimed posed a conflict of interest for Greenlee, whose brother-in-law, Robert Whitwell, was a law partner to Anthony Farese, who represented one of the scandal’s defendants.
As a result of these tensions and others, Greenlee also had the Neilson-supervised Oxford FBI Office removed from investigating the Richard Scruggs legal scandal, which was turned over to the Jackson FBI.
“I have completely lost trust and confidence in (Neilson’s) ability to supervise the FBI agents stationed” in north Mississippi, Greenlee wrote to Director Robert Mueller in January 2008. Neilson “resents me and our office, the exact cause of which is difficult to pinpoint but it is present.”
Two years earlier, then-Jackson FBI chief John G. Raucci told the FBI’s Inspection Division, “It was quite apparent USA Greenlee has an extraordinary dislike for SSA Neilson.”
Complaints a factor
After seven years of complaints and investigations, the Office of Professional Responsibility concludes that Neilson’s official complaints about Greenlee were “contributing factors” to Greenlee’s retaliations against him.
However, the DOJ report states that Neilson’s subsequent suspension and indictment over a local FBI-office real estate deal “would have occurred” even without Greenlee’s knowledge of Neilson’s disclosures, and “no corrective action” is warranted, even though Greenlee denied he contacted Washington for retaliatory reasons.
Tuesday, Neilson said he will object to that assessment, saying he’d gained FBI approval for all his real estate dealings until Greenlee went after him.
The report comes to a different conclusion about Greenlee’s motive behind trying to get Neilson transferred.
No “clear and convincing evidence exists,” it states, to show that Greenlee would have recommended Neilson’s transfer without “his retaliatory motive.”
This conclusion was referred to the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management to order “whatever correction action, if any” is deemed appropriate.
Six years ago, the DOJ informed Greenlee that he had not engaged in professional misconduct or exercised poor judgment in either the store investigation or the beef plant matter.
“We consider the matter to be closed,” it said.
As for Neilson, he said, “I’m not done, not by a longshot.”