FBI Director for Minnesota, Dakotas Retires

March 01, 2018 06:45 PM

The special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigations for Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota has retired.

Wednesday was Rick Thornton's last day with the agency.  The FBI has a mandatory retirement age of 57.


Thornton led the office since 2014, but had been assigned there twice over his 30 year career in law enforcement.  Thornton's first assignment was in New Orleans. He had also been assigned to New York, St. Louis, Kansas City and FBI Headquarters.

RELATED: Head of FBI for Minnesota, Dakotas to Retire

During his time with the agency, he served as a pilot of surveillance planes and worked on the agency's critical incident team.

In Minnesota, Thornton supervised the largest terror recruitment case.

"There was concern about former ISIS foreign fighters coming back to Minnesota now that there's not a physical caliphate to go to," Thornton said. "And people that otherwise might have traveled abroad to carry out their motivation of jihad now are staying home and looking for other options, which could mean an attack on the homeland. Those are the things that keep us awake at night."

Thornton oversaw more than 200 investigators. The kind of investigations that made it to Thornton's desk were defining and complicated. He handled the Tom Peters and Denny Hecker financial cases, was assigned to dismantle the recruitment of foreign fighters of Somali men in Minnesota, helped coordinate security at the Super Bowl and created active shooter training for law enforcement.

When asked about his role in the discovery of Jacob Wetterling, a case that impacted many in Minnesota, Thornton took on a determined tone.

"It touched so many people, so deeply, on so many levels," he said.

Thornton participated in anti-terrorism efforts and orchestrated the unprecedented training among city, county and state law enforcement in the use of force. Thornton referred to many of those agencies as partners.

"It's a force multiplier for everybody and, at the end of the day, the citizens of Minnesota won because of the relationships," he said.

Thornton said he wishes he had more time to focus on neighborhood meetings and dialogue with ethnic communities in the state. He added that he wishes he could have seen the Bloomington mosque bombing case come to a close.

RELATED: A Look at the FBI Central Command Center Investigating the Bloomington Mosque Bombing

Jill Sanborn has been named as Thornton's successor. She will report to Minneapolis in April.



Beth McDonough

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