Williams placed on paid leave following FBI’s search

By Kelly Bauer

Eddie Williams, chief of operations and executive vice president of Finance and Facilities, has been placed on paid leave following Wednesday’s FBI probe.

According to a news release from the university, the choice was made “in light of recent events.”

Williams issued a statement today through his lawyer saying he was unsure why he was the subject of an FBI investigation. On Wednesday, FBI and ISP personnel, among others, executed a search warrant on the campus.

The FBI’s search focused on the NIU Police Department. Agent Joan Hyde of the FBI’s media office said she could not comment on what the agencies were looking for in their search because the investigators are subject to grand jury secrecy rules until charges are filed or arrests made, which has not happened yet. An Illinois State Police spokesman declined to comment on the search.

The Northern Star obtained the FBI’s search warrant through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the warrant, the FBI and ISP were reviewing records related to Eden’s Gardens, “including correspondence, memoranda, notes, records relating to criminal history or background checks of residents and prospective tenants of Eden’s Gardens….”

Eden’s Garden provides low-income housing in DeKalb. According to the statement released by Williams’ lawyer this morning, Williams “developed affordable housing resources in the DeKalb community” as part of Eden’s Garden.

“Eden’s Gardens, a privately funded, two-phase project, is not affiliated in any way with Northern Illinois University…. 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,” according to the statement released by Williams’ lawyer.

Earlier today, NIU President John Peters said in a news release it was understandable the FBI’s search would cause “the campus community distress.”

“The search warrant issued to the university yesterday was primarily focused around police department records and information. 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,” Peters said in the news release.

Peters said Williams “has been integral to our success…,” according to the university’s news release.

“I appreciate the president’s understanding as much as I treasure my association with NIU,” Williams said in the news release. “I look forward to the complete resolution of the current investigation and returning to my post.”

A call to Williams’ office was directed to NIU spokesmen. Paul Palian, director of media and university relations, said the decision for Williams to go on leave was “mutual” and came about after a meeting between Williams and Peters.

Steven Cunningham, vice president of administration and human resource services, will serve as an acting replacement to Williams, who became the first vice president for finance and planning in 1985. Palian said Williams has served the university for 42 years.

In his statement, Peters expressed hoped for NIU, which is in the process of seeking a new president. Peters will step down on June 30.

“It is now clear that once the university comes through this trial, our university and, more specifically, our police department will be stronger, more transparent and more effective,” he said in the statement.

NIU has grappled with a number of scandals in recent months.

In August, allegations surfaced that university employees had been selling NIU-owned scrap metal and depositing the funds into a “coffee fund.” One former and eight current NIU employees were charged with various felonies and misdemeanors in relation to the fund in October. Donald Grady, former NIU Police chief, requested FBI assistance with the coffee fund investigations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In September, claims surfaced against John Gordon, former Convocation Center director, and Robert Albanese, former associate vice president for finance and facilities. Allegedly, Gordon had a Convocation Center custodian clean his home and Albanese used NIU property for his own purposes at his home. Gordon resigned and Albanese retired effected July 31.

In November, Clay Campbell, former county state’s attorney, formally requested that the ISP investigate the NIU Police Department and Grady, then the chief. Campbell wanted the ISP to focus on the mishandling of evidence in the case of former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin. Judge Robbin Stuckert said the NIU police withheld information in the case. In response, Peters requested the ISP review how the NIU police department handled the case. The charges against Rifkin were dropped, but he has since been re-indicted for criminal sexual assault. Grady was terminated in February.