A Suffolk County corrections officer, who was investigated by the FBI for alleged ties to the Ku Klux Klan, retired last summer after being charged with official misconduct.
Records obtained by Newsday show that federal agents monitoring hate groups on social media targeted former Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Kenneth Gillan after identifying him as the person behind a Facebook account that included a posting to “mow over” Muslims.
In a Newsday interview, Gillan said that he “never belonged to Facebook” and viewed websites of extremist groups, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the Hells Angels, while on the job to learn about gangs in the county jail.
Gillan said he watched TV and looked at websites while working the overnight shift in the Riverhead Correctional Facility. Gillan, 59, was paid $202,232 in 2019, according to payroll records.
The Sheriff’s Internal Affairs unit joined the FBI investigation in September 2019, Suffolk Undersheriff Steven Kuehhas said in an interview. A spokesman for the FBI did not return a call for comment.
FBI agents uncovered a recruitment page for the extremist group with an email address. That led them to the Facebook account. It had been registered under an alias, but it showed a photograph of Gillan on a motorcycle, with a legible vanity license plate, according to the Internal Affairs report on the case.
The FBI subpoenaed the Facebook account and linked it to Gillan.
The motorcycle photo “was a giveaway,” Kuehhas said.
“I used to watch ‘Gangland’ on Discovery Channel,” Gillan said. “And that’s kind of how the whole thing started. I worked midnights, and the show ended at 2 in the morning and I would still have four hours to burn. So, one day, I said, well, and I clicked in motorcycle gangs, you know. And I did it for a couple of years, I guess, and then all of a sudden, the sheriff had an issue.”
After connecting Gillan to the Facebook page, FBI agents created a female online persona to email Gillan. They exchanged emails, but agents didn’t have an undercover operative who could meet Gillan in person. They placed him under surveillance from September 2019 through December 2019. He did not meet with hate groups, the report said.
Kuehhas said Gillan became aware of the investigation because he was notified of the Facebook subpoena.
The FBI created a new online persona to contact Gillan and they corresponded, but the onset of the pandemic thwarted any possibility of an in-person meeting, the report said.
On July 9, 2020, FBI agents knocked on Gillan’s door.
“I should have just told the FBI that I don’t want to talk to them,” Gillan said. “I felt it was a nonissue, and I invited them into my backyard, and they asked me some questions and I answered them what I thought was truthful, and they said, ‘OK.’ You know, ‘Thank you for your honesty. You’re not being charged with anything. We’re not arresting you.”
He said an agent showed him a Ku Klux Klan flyer and asked him if he had ever handed them out or if he had attended KKK rallies. Gillan said he denied both and denied belonging to the Ku Klux Klan when asked by an agent.
The Internal Affairs report, however, states that Gillan admitted that the Facebook page was his, that he was the man photographed on the motorcycle, that the email address was his, that he had corresponded with the original female persona and that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
He also admitted researching extremist groups online due to “too much free time,” the report states.
Sheriff Office employees are required to file a report, called Form 6, if they are contacted by a law enforcement agency. Gillan stated in his Form 6 that he had chatted with an FBI agent who asked him about websites he had visited and asked him “some direct questions.”
“I was able to confidently tell him that I have not taken part in any criminal activity and do not support any hate groups,” he wrote.
Based on the FBI account of the meeting, the Sheriff’s Office charged Gillan with misconduct, including filing a false statement, conduct detrimental to the Sheriff’s Office and immoral conduct. He was suspended for 30 days without pay, and the Sheriff’s Office sought to terminate him. He retired in July before being terminated.
“Everybody wanted him gone,” Kuehhas said. Membership in an extremist group “doesn’t reflect law enforcement. We’re supposed to protect society.”
Gillan said he loved his job but retired because, “My ex-wife is making things difficult for me with my pension.” She did not respond to requests for comment.
Gillan’s pension records are not yet available online. He started with the Sheriff’s Office in September 2001 and had an “impeccable record,” Kuehhas said.
Asked if he felt any sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan, Gillan said, “No, no, nothing. Like I said, I was just curious about the clientele at the jail because it’s loaded with gang members, you know? And, uh, I was just trying to educate myself, that’s all. Bottom line.”
Kuehhas said the Suffolk County jail has fewer problems with gangs than prisons because the population is more transient. Inmates are held for less than a year. He also said that the jail population has dropped from 1,400 in July 2016 to 813 in May 2020.
Gillan’s retirement resolved six charges of providing false information on an official form and immoral conduct. He said he fears public identification.
“I’m just a happy guy,” he said. “I’m working. But I don’t need any misery in my life, either.”