Ill. police training official fired for giving LE certification to Warren Buffett's son

An investigation determined that Howard Buffett did not have the qualifications to be a part-time police officer

By Jeremy Gorner
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — An official in charge of training police across Illinois was fired in September on the recommendation of the state’s top government watchdog, who found he improperly granted a law enforcement certification to philanthropist Howard Buffett after Buffett had donated millions of dollars to support the training agency’s efforts.

The state’s executive inspector general’s office found that Brent Fischer, executive director of the state’s Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, granted the certification to Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, even though Buffett didn’t have the qualifications to be a part-time law enforcement officer, according to the IG’s report released Wednesday.

Howard Buffett demonstrates a gun used in a training simulator at the Grant Farm Training Facility, which Buffett helped fund, in Decatur, Ill. on Friday, June 30, 2017.
Howard Buffett demonstrates a gun used in a training simulator at the Grant Farm Training Facility, which Buffett helped fund, in Decatur, Ill. on Friday, June 30, 2017. (Alexandra Wimley/Chicago Tribune)

A Decatur business executive, Howard Buffett, 66, served as the appointed sheriff of Macon County in central Illinois for a little over a year until November 2018. This spring, he announced he’d run for the job, but ended his campaign shortly afterward, citing changing qualifications written into sweeping criminal justice reforms that were signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year.

In a 30-page report, which identifies Buffett only as “Individual 1,” the inspector general’s office concluded that Fischer granted Buffett a certification despite knowing he didn’t meet the state-mandated qualifications. Fisher also inappropriately issued Buffett a waiver to skirt the normal process, the IG found.

“Certification of law enforcement officer status, especially considering the significant public interest in maintaining integrity in that process, should not be minimized nor should it be provided based on someone’s ability to financially contribute, regardless of how great that assistance is, to the law enforcement community,” the report stated.

There are several requirements for anyone seeking a part-time law enforcement officer certification from the ILETSB, including a physical fitness test and about 560 hours of classroom courses on topics ranging from civil rights and civil liability and Illinois criminal offenses to control and arrest tactics and firearms. An individual can get a waiver for the training requirements if they can show they’ve gone through similar training with another police department or in another state.

The report states that in December 2018, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office sent an application to the ILETSB for a waiver of the training requirements so Buffett could be employed as a part-time undersheriff. The ILETSB received four letters of support for Buffett’s waiver application from top law enforcement officials in the Decatur area.

“Documents produced by the ILETSB indicate that (Buffett) never attended a basic training course, sat for a certification exam, or attended a basic training course in a different jurisdiction,” according to the report.

The report shows Buffett’s charitable organization has donated $143.2 million to public safety causes, including support for 115 local law enforcement agencies and volunteer fire departments. In 2016, the charity earmarked $15 million for an ILETSB facility.

In June 2018, the training board asked Buffett for $10,000 to pay for equipment to help with the board’s canine recertification process, the report stated. On Jan. 11, 2019, at 10:47 a.m., a training board employee sent an email to a representative from the charity explaining that the board’s “financial people” were working to deposit the check.

Three hours later, the training board employee emailed a letter from Fischer to one of Buffett’s supporters granting his request for a waiver on the training requirements.

The letter showed that the training board granted the waiver because of Buffett’s “unique set of experience and skills,” referencing his service “as an auxiliary deputy in both Illinois and Arizona,” according to the report. But the letter also cautioned how the “approval is not to set a precedence for all future cases.”

An ILETSB database also indicated Buffett “Had Basic Training,” the report stated, even though he didn’t, per training board standards. Either way, Buffett served as a part-time Macon County undersheriff until March 2020 under this waiver.

In his interview with the inspector general’s office in May, Fischer acknowledged the waiver for Buffett was “a unique request” because Buffett had never completed basic training or passed a certification exam, although he had served as Macon County sheriff at that point for 14 months.

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Fischer also said that Buffett “proactively attended various trainings and submitted training records” with his waiver request.

Fischer offered the IG several reasons for granting Buffett the waiver including his previous experience as Macon County sheriff, and the fact that several people lobbied for him. He also said Buffett “had done a lot for the law enforcement community.”

In a July interview with the inspector general’s office, Buffett said Fischer never asked him or anyone representing him for anything that would benefit Fischer personally. And he also said he’s never given anything “personally benefiting” Fischer or any other state employee “in exchange for something to benefit himself.”

However, Buffett said, “he did not recall what was said to him” when he was granted the waiver, “and did not remember being told that the certification was only ‘ceremonial’ or ‘honorary’ and not an authentic certification.”

“(Buffett) stated that if he would have been informed that the certification was not authentic, he would not have placed a copy of it in his personal binder, nor would he have announced his run for Macon County Sheriff,” according to the report.

Buffett also told the IG he was concerned about the optics of the certification issue.

Buffett “stated that although he believes he has the necessary training and experience to serve as a law enforcement officer, it can appear that he was only given a certification because he has donated millions of dollars to the law enforcement community.”

Reached by the Tribune Wednesday night, Buffett said he hadn’t read the IG report, and didn’t say much more.

“I don’t even know anything about it,” he said. “I haven’t seen the report, or anything.”

A letter from the ILETSB that’s attached to the IG report confirmed Fischer was fired in September. He could not be reached for comment.

In response to the IG’s findings, Fischer wrote a letter on Nov. 4 questioning the fairness of the investigation. He said the IG failed to “state any established rule, regulation statute, or even norm I somehow violated.”

“The Report points to no factual basis for a finding of any objective legal or ethical standard,” Fischer wrote.

The acting director of the training board, Keith Calloway, declined to comment, saying the board doesn’t discuss personnel matters.

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