Talking Stick Resort and Casino. Friday, August 4. A jackpot awaited someone.
Forty-five-year-old Robert Jeremy Miller walked past the flashing slot machines and the felt blackjack tables, the government documents say. His jackpot lay beyond. Upstairs. Waiting for him to claim it.
Two FBI agents lurked in one of the rooms. Their jackpot was coming up an elevator.
Miller stepped into their trap, and via a jail cell, into U.S. District Court on Wednesday. How he came to be tricked into selling sensitive aerospace secrets to the FBI rather than a Mexican drug cartel is laid out in a flurry of 275 texts on Miller’s phone over a 10-day period, which federal prosecutors filed in court.
The stream of messages tells a tale of desperation, anxiety, and money troubles. One key exchange came on July 27, just after 10 a.m.
“Damn l hope they can be trusted,” Miller texted a man the government started calling a co-conspirator.
Miller could be released from custody with an ankle bracelet as soon as Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Burns told attorneys after a short detention hearing.
The FBI says Miller plotted revenge against his former employer, defense contractor Honeywell, which had let him go in February and then sued him two weeks later, alleging breach of contract. The defense giant claimed in federal court that Miller stole a database of 3,000 customers and deleted it.
The feds now say he also created a ghost login to the aerospace system Honeywell offered the military and big federal agencies to track their aircraft and marine vessels. Miller, a senior project management specialist at the company, had a level-one security clearance and was one of its experts on the satellite system. He planned to sell access to the satellite tracking system on the black market, the government alleges.
Honeywell said in its lawsuit that Miller joined the firm in a buyout in 2013 and became the main support contact for Honeywell’s Sky Connect customers, “which includes satellite communications that provide services to aircraft, such as text and voice communication, global positioning system tracking, and other report data.”
Drug smugglers would pay handsomely for that.
A man who identified himself to Miller as HR, to Honeywell investigators as John Patriot, and whom the FBI named as Brandon Harris, set up the arrangement, the government says. In one text, and according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Steven Garbett, Harris said he had negotiated a $2 million deal with a Mexican cartel.
Harris texted Miller on July 26 to tell him he made up the name Daniel Wyatt to make the transaction.
“LOL,” Miller replied.
Honeywell officials weren't laughing when Harris, as John Patriot, told them about the plot on July 23, Garbett said in his affidavit.
From an Indianapolis-area phone, Harris reported that he knew the man who wanted $5 million for access to Honeywell’s system.
Honeywell’s investigators called Harris back. Under questioning, Harris revealed Miller’s identity. Harris also told the company’s investigators he "was not looking to get rich, but wanted some compensation” for coming forward, the FBI said.
Harris confirmed the credibility of the plot by sharing screenshots on July 26, which showed aircraft of one Honeywell client.
At this point, Harris told the company he would leak details of Honeywell’s security breach to the press if the company didn’t properly compensate him, court documents said, adding he considered his information to be worth “at least five figures.”
On July 31, the FBI got involved. Harris told them Miller “was pissed he didn’t get a raise and wanted to screw over the company,” according to Garbett’s court statement.
On Wednesday, Garbett testified that the Bureau has audio recordings of some interactions with the two men.
Harris told agents that he had told Miller he could line up buyers, including someone from a Mexican cartel.
Harris showed the FBI text messages from a phone with a Salt Lake City area code, which he believed Miller was using.
The FBI was now reading the texts between Miller and Harris.
They began on July 21.
“Hopefully you'll have good news before l have to take a job out of state,” Miller texted. “Funds are low.”
The next day, Harris sounded frantic in a string of texts. “Call me asap …. Call me asap. … Yo answer. We might have a deal. … You’re blowing this, dude.”
The next day the men connected through texts.
Miller: “What price ya think?”
Harris: “Not sure. I told them 5 million.”
“Start high, let them talk me down.”
“That’s a decent price though.”
“Very … I’ll take 2. Pay my contact from my portion.”
On July 24, the negotiations were under way.
“We got an offer for $500k. Told them no, they've gonna talk with bosses,” Harris reported. “We don't want to rush them. lt could spook them. They are kinda skittish still.”
Miller suggested: “Think we should take an offer below 5mill and make em pay a hefty monthly? Just a thought.”
He waited two days before asking about progress.
Harris discussed technical issues with the clients gaining access to the system, noting in one demo they could see a Blackhawk helicopter. The deal was dragging, he reported, because the cartel members wanted to be sure it worked.
“Damn, I hope they can be trusted,” Miller replied.
Over the next 24 hours they discussed technical glitches before Harris reported a deal was close. On July 28, he texted, “Give me a min. Working out details. The first one who offered has 2mill. Payout Monday!” and then “Call you in a bit. We are on for Monday! Payday has finally come!”
But payday hadn’t come. No jackpot yet.
Miller started getting edgy over the next two days, blasting out a stream of texts, “Any update? … Anything? … Your lack of response is making me skeptical. I think I should delete my own login.”
After Harris responded he’d been in hospital with food poisoning, Miller texted, “I have to move tomorrow because I am out of money. If they want a deal they have to get their shit together tomorrow or it’s all done.”
Seven minutes later on July 30, Miller texted, “I need shit to happen asap.”
“You and me both. I can’t push them or they won’t respond. Be cool.” Harris replied.
Miller: “It just needs to happen soon. I am way too stressed out about money.”
Harris: “I am, too.”
Miller: “Hopefully today is the day. Sorry I was a bit forceful last night. Vodka was speaking.”
Finally, the deal was made, but not the way Miller thought it was.
On August 4, last Friday, Miller met two undercover agents in a private room at Talking Stick. He explained how they could access the system with a shadow login and demonstrated “how to find aircraft and other vehicles,” the government complaint said.
The agents arrested Miller on the spot. The whole thing was caught on video, Garbett testified Wednesday.
In an interview after Miller's arrest, Garbett wrote, the suspect claimed that his intention in meeting with individuals whom he thought represented the Mexican cartel was to gather and share information with law enforcement. Miller stated that he had researched how to become a DEA informant and was planning to talk to a DEA agent friend of Miller’s brother,” the FBI said in court documents.
The FBI then searched Miller’s apartment on North Fourth Avenue in Phoenix.
Agents said they seized “multiple computers and hard drives,” including one which Miller identified as containing information from Honeywell. He told the FBI he took the information inadvertently when he tried to back up personal files from his work computer after he was fired.
In court Wednesday, it remained unclear if Miller still lives at the apartment. Government attorneys suggested he was being evicted shortly before his arrest. The results of the search warrant remain sealed in court.
Meanwhile, not much was said about Harris in court or in filed records.
Agent Garbett referred to Harris as a co-conspirator on the stand. Was he a confidential informant? On the government payroll? How did he and Miller know each other, and did Miller ever know his true identity?
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“There are a whole lot of questions,” Miller’s attorney, Loyd Tate, said. “It’s really important that we let the facts come out about this case. To just accept an FBI agent’s affidavit at face value. … We don’t know the reliability of that whatsoever.
“Is it an interesting story? Of course it is,” Tate said. “But let Mr. Miller have his day in court before he gets tarred and feathered.”
In his one appearance so far, Miller sat attentively with close cropped sandy gray hair and beard, wearing prison orange. He chatted with Tate, even allowing a faint grin at times.
On Friday, Miller finds out whether the judge will act on her stated inclination to release him, despite federal prosecutor Jim Knapp’s courtroom stance that Miller’s crimes are serious and the case against him “overwhelming.”