In July, he was John Patriot, a government informant helping the FBI take down another Phoenix man he said was a threat to national security. Now, John Patriot is the lone defendant in this case under his real identity, Brandon Quinn Harris, charged with attempting to peddle surveillance technology to a Mexican drug cartel.
The main target of the investigation had been Robert Jeremy Miller.
Until December 1. That day Miller was rushed to a Phoenix emergency room, where he died.
He was 46 and, according to recent court hearings, appeared to be in good health. Family and friends have been spreading all kinds of theories since his death but there remain more questions than hard facts.
Last summer, federal prosecutors charged Miller with two counts of fraud. The FBI said that he wanted to get even with Honeywell International Inc., which let him go under a cloud in February. According to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court, Harris told the feds that Miller had been “pissed that he didn't get a raise and wanted to screw over the company.”
In a civil suit, Honeywell claimed Miller stole the electronic keys to the company’s satellite tracking system, which it uses to track aircraft and marine vessels.
Many of Honeywell’s clients are in the U.S. government, including the Customs and Border Protection units that fly surveillance over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pretty valuable stuff if you are a Mexican narcotraficante.
Miller and Harris decided to sell the technology on the black market to the cartels for $5 million, the government claims.
Instead, Miller was led into an FBI trap. He was arrested in July, and appeared in court in early August, and told by a federal judge he could go free as long as he surrendered his passport and wore an electronic monitoring device.
Miller was visiting family for Thanksgiving in his native Paducah, Kentucky, lifelong friends said. Then he flew back to Phoenix.
His death certificate says he was rushed to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Medical Center with what prosecutors later described as a “medical emergency.” The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy, but the results remain “pending.”
Friends say Jeremy, as they know him, died of a massive heart attack. His family has told them they think the cartels whacked him. The exact cause and manner of his death remain unknown.
On December 4, the family told Miller’s attorney of his death. The next day, the case against him was dropped. And on December 5, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, naming Harris for the first time openly.
They charged him with five counts. The government accuses Harris of conspiring to hack computers, of gaining unauthorized access to computer files for information gathering and means to extort Honeywell, of using interstate commerce to extort the company, and of criminal forfeiture.
How badly, and quickly, things had turned on John Patriot. Harris, now 42, was already in the scopes of the G-men before his federal charge.
On October 31, just 12 weeks after Miller stood in court, the FBI filed and sealed a complaint, laying out the future case against Harris, and got an arrest warrant. The feds said they didn’t know where he was.
He had ties to Indianapolis, Ohio, Texas, and Phoenix. Longtime friends of Harris and Miller said they thought he disappeared suddenly and went to San Francisco.
The FBI nabbed Harris in Phoenix on November 9.
They laid out their case against him in court documents. His own words came back to bite him, as they had Miller.
On July 26, Harris texted and called Honeywell repeatedly to report the security breach in their aircraft tracking system. Harris was seeking $10,000 for his information, the feds claimed.
“You got 1.5 hours to get me an offer or I head to the embassy,” Harris texted during one exchange, the FBI said.
Then he added, “I’m also going to stop at the first news outlet and give them a nice story for the 6 p.m. news.”
“Either you deal with the embarrassment of a PR mess and lose the trust from your clients, or you pay for my silence.”
A week later, Honeywell met with John Patriot, and he told them he wanted more than $10,000.
The company had a third option. It called the FBI.
The FBI tracked down the Indianapolis phone number to Harris, who also listed an address in Phoenix on Indian School Road. Miller lived in an apartment near downtown on Fourth Street.
The agents posed as Honeywell people and met Harris. He gave up the whole plot to contact the cartels. He explained he was cooperating because, “he was a patriot and was concerned that American lives could be lost” if Miller went through with the plan and sold secrets to a real cartel.
It wasn’t pure altruism, mind you. Harris told the feds he expected compensation for his patriotism.
The feds took Harris’s cellphone and returned it to him the next day. Then they set the trap for Miller.
Harris and Miller communicated repeatedly over the next week, setting up the buy. They discussed pricing and in a nervous exchange of texts went back and forth with updates and money worries. Finally, the deal was arranged. They would meet at Talking Stick Resort and Casino.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Except it was the G-men, not Chapo’s men, who were waiting for him.
After his arrest, Miller’s attorney, Loyd Tate, summed up the case well.
“There are a whole lot of questions,” Tate says. “Is it an interesting story? Of course it is. But let Mr. Miller have his day in court before he gets tarred and feathered.”
Miller never got that chance. Now it’s Harris’s turn. The FBI still has questions to answer, even more, now that Miller is in his grave in Kentucky.