DECATUR – State police confirmed they were conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of the former head of a state agency who was fired after being found to have acted inappropriately in granting a waiver of training law enforcement to Decatur-based philanthropist Howard Buffett.
News of the investigation came to light in a response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Herald & Review.
The newspaper had requested copies of all emails sent between Buffett’s namesake foundation and Brent Fischer, the former executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, ILETSB.
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Fischer was fired on September 8 after an investigation by the Inspector General’s office of the executive – a state government watchdog. He concluded that Fischer should not have granted the waiver to Buffett that allowed him to serve as deputy sheriff even though he did not have the 560 hours of training required to be a sworn officer.
And state police also suggest their criminal investigation could go beyond Fischer’s actions alone.
In a letter to ILETSB Legal Counsel John R. Keigher requesting that the newspaper’s FOIA request be denied (which it was), David Catlin, the Freedom of Information Officer of the state police, said: “The FAI’s investigation will ultimately lead to a recommendation on whether the employee (presumably a reference to Fischer) should be criminally charged.
“The investigation may also lead to other people charged with crimes. Thus, the disclosure of any file … would interfere with the ongoing investigation.
Asked by the Herald & Review, Lt. Joseph Hutchins, the state police’s public information officer, said in an email that the investigation involved “employees,” plural, of the ILETSB. “Illinois State Police are conducting open and ongoing investigations into former employees of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board,” to quote his full statement. He did not comment further.
Buffett has never been charged with wrongdoing and has previously said he acted right at all times. An attempt to reach him to comment on this story was unsuccessful.
“A non-standard document may have been provided”
When the Herald & Review asked the ILETSB for comment, Keigher said the council’s acting executive director Keith Calloway referred all inquiries into the investigation to state police.
When asked if such an investigation was unprecedented in the 55-year history of the ILETSB, Keigher said Calloway said he was not aware of a similar event.
The state police letter to ILETSB urging the denial of the newspaper’s FOIA request goes on to quote the State Police Master Sgt. Matthew Barber, a member of the Criminal Investigation Division, who described the investigation into Fischer’s actions as an “allegation of official fraud and misconduct.”
“It is alleged that the employee, as part of his official duties, created and provided a benefactor with an official document without proper authority,” Barber reportedly said.
“Through interviews, it was determined that a non-standard document may have been provided to the benefactor by the employee. The details of this document, its creation, issuance and the intent of the document are confidential and are currently under investigation.
Barber called the emails sought by the newspaper “probative value and, if made public, could taint a jury.” He also said that due to the “high profile nature of the case” any publication of the emails could influence the recollection of witnesses and “those called to testify.”
The Inspector General’s investigation into Fischer that led to his dismissal revealed that the Howard G. Buffett Foundation had generously supported the ILETSB projects: it had allocated $ 15 million to build the training center at Macon County law enforcement, which opened in 2017 in Decatur.
The investigation also noted that Buffett was asked for a check for $ 10,000 to fund dog training equipment, and within hours of acknowledging receipt of the check in January 2019, an email letter was sent by Fischer’s office upholding a request from a Buffett supporter seeking a waiver of the law enforcement training hours standard.
The Inspector General’s report said: “Certification of law enforcement officer status, especially given the important public interest in maintaining integrity in this process, should not be minimized nor be provided based on someone’s ability to contribute financially… to the law enforcement community. “
Fischer then tried to claim that the waiver granted to Buffett was only honorary. But Buffett reportedly told the Inspector General’s office that it was news to him. The philanthropist had also stressed that he had never provided funds or support “in exchange for something for himself”.
“It makes me sick what they do with him”
Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, was appointed Macon County Sheriff in 2017 after former Sheriff Tom Schneider resigned. (Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway sold his papers to Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Herald & Review, in 2020.)
At that time, sheriffs only had to be U.S. citizens, have lived in the county they serve for a year, and have no criminal record to hold the position. But an overhaul of police standards enacted in March required sheriffs to complete the standard training course.
Buffett, who had said he would run as the Republican candidate for Macon County sheriff in the 2022 election, then announced he was dropping those plans in June. The waiver controversy became public in November.
Buffett, who has a keen interest in law enforcement, has served as a deputy sheriff and a volunteer with various police departments in different parts of the country. These police departments include the Christian County Sheriff’s Office, where Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp believes Buffett got a very rough deal on the waiver issue.
“I want you to know it makes me sick what they do with him,” Kettelkamp said. “He’s made to look like the bad guy when in reality he was doing whatever he was told,” the sheriff said of the waiver controversy. “Howard Buffett didn’t do anything wrong. “
The police had found him standing in the middle of an intersection.
He said Buffett has been a part-time member of his office since 2019, helping a law enforcement agency that is often under-manpowered. “Since he’s been with us he’s never taken any coercive action, he’s never handcuffed anyone, but he was there to help our guys,” Kettelkamp said. “He helped people get treatment and he was involved in hostage negotiations when we had an incident here; he’s very knowledgeable and it’s just a shame what happened to him.
Kettelkamp said Buffett had in fact received extensive training and served successfully as Macon County Sheriff for about 15 months. “And that experience alone gives him more than enough experience to be a part-time assistant,” he added.
“I’ve never met a more generous person in my life than Howard Buffett and he’s not interested in law enforcement just to put a badge and a gun by his side; he’s in it because he really wants to help people.
Part of what the Buffett Foundation funded in Macon County
Community care campus
Macon County Recycling Facility
Decatur Park District
Decatur Park District
Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid