DEKALB, ILLINOIS – Recent troubles at Northern Illinois University intensified Wednesday as the FBI executed a search warrant at the campus police station.
The warrant — which stunned officials at the state’s third-largest public university — stems from an ongoing criminal investigation by three federal agencies and the Illinois State Police, FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said.
In addition to the FBI and state police, the inspector general offices of the federal departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development participated in Wednesday’s raid. None of those agencies would comment on their roles or the target of the investigation.
Federal inspector general offices typically investigate fraud or misuse of money allocated by their agencies.
At least some NIU police officers were asked to leave the station while others were being interviewed by the authorities, the Tribune has learned. Members of the FBI’s Computer Analysis and Response Team were seen at the station.
“Today’s activity is not in response to any public safety concerns,” the FBI said in a statement. “During the execution of the warrant, the public safety functions of the NIU police department will continue uninterrupted.”
The warrant comes at the request of a grand jury looking into an undisclosed matter involving the university, according to authorities. Hyde said the FBI took the rare step of issuing a news release about the search to ease any concerns students might have about an influx of law enforcement on the campus, which still bears scars from a 2008 shooting spree that left six people dead and 21 injured.
University spokesman Bradley Hoey said administrators were caught off guard when the authorities arrived at the police station at 8 a.m. The FBI agents asked to see files, Hoey said.
“Any time you have these agencies come to your campus, there is obviously concern,” Hoey said. “What we want to do is be able to cooperate as much as possible.”
Acting police Chief Darren Mitchell hung up when contacted by the Tribune.
NIU, based in DeKalb, has faced its share of scandals this academic year, though it’s unclear whether the FBI activity is related to any of them.
Longtime campus police Chief Donald Grady was fired last month. The dismissal came after he was put on paid leave last year over his department’s alleged misconduct in a high-profile rape case, and five months after he asked the FBI for help investigating university finances.
The officer accused in the rape case, Andrew Rifkin, was re-indicted last month on charges he assaulted an NIU freshman in 2011. The charges had been dropped in November after prosecutors said the police department mishandled the investigation. The DeKalb County judge at the time called the police department’s actions “egregious” and a “purposeful hiding of information.”
After that court hearing, NIU President John Peters — who plans to retire in June — requested that state police review the campus police department’s handling of the case and its law enforcement procedures in general.
“I don’t know if this is a result of that request,” Hoey said Wednesday.
Separately, Grady asked for FBI help in August as his department was investigating the conduct of two high-ranking university administrators who had resigned for misconduct.
The NIU police department also had been investigating an alleged scheme in which employees were selling university scrap materials and depositing the money in a private, unauthorized account known as the “coffee fund.” Eight employees and a former employee face criminal charges in the matter.
The slush fund was used to pay for holiday parties, retirement celebrations and other social occasions, officials have said.
That investigation was closed when Grady was suspended last year.
Built among the cornfields about 65 miles west of Chicago, NIU attracts students looking for an affordable college education while either living on the large public campus or commuting to DeKalb. About 94 percent of its 22,000 students are from Illinois, two-thirds from Chicago and surrounding suburbs.
In addition to the Rifkin and “coffee fund” scandals, the university has been grappling with the fallout from the death of a freshman in November after excessive drinking at a fraternity party. Nearly two dozen fraternity members were charged with hazing crimes, while the student’s family has suggested that administrators turned a blind eye to hazing among its Greek organizations.
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