OXFORD, Miss. (CN) - A U.S. attorney destroyed an FBI agent's career after the agent truthfully reported that the U.S. Attorney's Office "shared classified FBI information regarding local residents of Middle Eastern descent," the former agent claims in court.
Philip Halbert Neilson, retired from the FBI, claims the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi led a campaign of personal revenge against him, culminating in Neilson's indictment.
He sued former U.S. Attorney James Greenlee, former FBI agents Matthew Bulwinkel and Michael Turner, Office of Inspector General agent Susan Howell, and the United States, in Federal Court.
"Neilson's life changed dramatically after he reported the suspicious activity of USA, Greenlee and his cohorts," the complaint states. "Greenlee set out to destroy Neilson at all costs. Greenlee used the full power and authority of his position as the chief prosecutor in the Northern District of Mississippi to exact personal revenge.
"Greenlee conspired with a number of colleagues to bring about the fall of Neilson. Some of these people are named defendants, others are known to the plaintiff and are cooperating with the investigation of this and other cases.
"The action/inaction of Greenlee and others deprived Neilson of the rights guaranteed him under the Constitution of the United States of America and all applicable law."
Neilson joined the FBI in 1989 as a legal adviser and special agent. After working at the Washington, D.C. field office for a few years, he was promoted to supervisor at FBI headquarters. In 1997, Neilson returned to his home state, Mississippi, where he became supervisor of five FBI offices and 37 counties, according to the complaint.
Neilson says he was a highly respected member of the FBI and received excellent ratings from his superiors.
He claims his troubles began in 2004, when he started to raise concerns about the local U.S. Attorney's Office's policies.
After several agents reported what he deemed "suspicious activity," Neilson claims, he discovered that the U.S. Attorney's Office used FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents' credentials to get records for its own use, mostly documents related to people of Middle Eastern descent.
Neilson says he was concerned that the U.S. Attorney's Office ignored federal policy that only the FBI can initiate domestic terrorism investigations.
He claims his agents learned by accident that the U.S. Attorney's Office was conducting its own terrorism investigations, that it had conducted a "seminar" with the Tupelo Police Department and had shared classified FBI information about residents of Middle Eastern descent.
Neilson says he reported what he had learned to Turner, who was "chief division counsel for the FBI," and to a superior who asked him to draft a written complaint and send it by email.
Neilson did so, and the Department of Justice sent an attorney to interview him, but never followed up on the issue, the lawsuit states.
Neilson claims Greenlee retaliated by sabotaging him and his squad and by making false accusations against him.
He claims that Greenlee sent a letter to the FBI director, asking him to remove Neilson, and that the FBI investigated, but found no misconduct.
Neilson claims that as early as 2007 people told him Greenlee was "out to get him" and to "watch his back."
"Unbeknownst to Neilson, Greenlee was conspiring with members of his staff and others to find a way to hurt and/or destroy Neilson," the complaint states. "Greenlee, the chief prosecutor for the Northern District of Mississippi, directed members of his staff to investigate Neilson. Specifically he sent federal prosecutors to local and surrounding chancery courts to search deed indexes to determine what, if any, property Neilson owned. He obtained Neilson's confidential personnel files and decided Neilson had incorrectly completed forms that had been on file with the FBI for years. The forms were routine annual reports and had been approved by Neilson's supervisors.
"At some point Greenlee came up with the idea that Neilson had improperly participated in site selection for the FBI building. He made that allegation to numerous federal officials in an effort to bring harm to Neilson. The allegation was false, and Greenlee knew it was false. Yet he pressed ahead for an indictment against Neilson, using the allegation that Neilson improperly influenced a site selection conducted by GSA [General Services Administration]. Greenlee spread further lies when he stated, on numerous occasions, that Neilson had prevented a local businessman from making a bid during the site selection process."
Greenlee followed Neilson's investigation even after it was reassigned to a colleague in Baton Rouge, and asked the Obama administration for a two-month extension at the end of his mandate as a Republican appointee, so he could see Neilson indicted, according to the complaint.
Neilson was arraigned in January 2010 and the FBI suspended him without pay. During his November 2010 trial, Neilson says, he found out the FBI had spied on him, had prevented him from getting another job, and had pressured his former colleagues about their testimony about him.
"Despite the efforts of Greenlee and his minions, the jury acquitted Neilson on two counts and could not unanimously decide the other counts," the complaint states. "Greenlee was out of office and could no longer use his power and authority to direct, persuade or bully. The United States realized the futility and utter nonsense of the case and dismissed the remaining counts."
Neilson says he returned to the FBI, but was received with hostility, treated as an outcast and denied promotions, which eventually prompted him to retire.
He says he suffered physical, emotional and financial damages and underwent heart surgery due to the stress.
He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations.
He is represented by Christi McCoy.
"Mr. Greenlee abused his authority and has sought to hide behind the very authority he was given," McCoy said in an email to Courthouse News. "We will use every remedy available to attempt to bring Mr. Greenlee and his cohorts to justice.
"Mr. Neilson has spent the past few years trying to put the pieces of his life back together. He is doing well. He is retired from the FBI and practices law - offering his services to the wrongfully accused."
McCoy said the Department of Justice issued a report in September finding that Greenlee had retaliated against Neilson. Her firm is pursuing an "internal" civil action along with the lawsuit and other remedies, the attorney said.
Greenlee, who has not yet been served with the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.