The case surrounding FBI agent Phillip Halbert “Hal” Neilson is shaping up to be a politically charged one, as allegations fly about a troubled relationship between Neilson and recently retired U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee that had gone on for years in the Northern District of Mississippi.
Neilson pleaded not guilty Monday to a five-count indictment alleging that he concealed his ownership in the FBI building that he supervised and lied on financial disclosure documents he was required to fill out yearly. There wasn’t an empty seat in the small courtroom on the second floor of the U.S. District Courthouse.
Days before the arraignment, a story in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal described e-mails Neilson sent to members of the Mississippi congressional delegation, saying he felt Greenlee was out to get him.
The Oxford Enterprise could not obtain the e-mails. U.S. District 1 Rep. Travis Childers’ press spokeswoman said, “Sorry, I can’t discuss the content of constituent mail.”
The Daily Journal article said the e-mails were not supplied by Neilson. The e-mails were reportedly sent to congressional members only months ago, after Neilson learned he was under investigation for his alleged secret ownership in the FBI building.
Neilson claims, according to The Daily Journal, that he came under attack after seeking whistle-blower protection from Greenlee. Neilson said he believed that Greenlee illegally targeted people with Muslim sounding names in the so-called Convenience Store Initiative, which began as an investigation into possible terrorist activities but became a major drug case instead.
Knowledgeable sources have told The Oxford Enterprise that there were some disagreements between Neilson and the U.S. Attorney’s office, but, when Neilson sought whistle-blower protection, they were “shocked” by his complaints. One veteran prosecutor said there was no merit to Neilson’s claims.
In Neilson’s e-mail to the delegation, he claims it was after he sought whistle-blower protection that he started to be excluded from cases — including the judicial bribery scandal surrounding Dickie Scruggs.
However, multiple people who worked on the Scruggs investigation told The Oxford Enterprise that they were worried Nielson was a leak to the media. They feared Scruggs would catch wind of the investigation before they had all the evidence they needed to get convictions.
At least one lawyer who worked for a Scruggs defendant claimed Neilson leaked information to The Clarion-Ledger about his client after the indictments against Scruggs were unsealed. This lawyer said he doesn’t buy Neilson’s argument that Greenlee is out to get him and that he is simply blowing smoke.
But another attorney who worked for a defendant in a case Neilson raised issues over said he thought there was a political aspect to his client’s prosecution and that Neilson may have been on to something.
All the people who spoke to The Oxford Enterprise asked to remain anonymous.
Sources also say that Neilson’s part ownership of the FBI building was discovered after a local contractor tipped off the U.S. Attorney’s office. U.S. Attorneys thought there was a possible ethical violation and reported the information to the U.S. Inspector General’s Office, which determined it was a criminal matter and assigned the case to the Baton Rouge prosecutors.
The Oxford Enterprise