Today State Representative Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) made the following Facebook post.
The post is troubling on many levels and caused the newly elected Clerk of Courts Rachel M. Sadoff to make the following press release.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASETuesday, February 2, 2021 STATEMENT BY CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT & COMPTROLLER RACHEL M. SADOFF REGARDING THE CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER’S INVESTIGATION OF PENN CREDIT CORPORATION “I am delighted that Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has initiated a review of contracts between the state’s clerks of court and Penn Credit Corporation. This office’s involvement with Penn Credit stemmed from a 2012 contract entered by former Clerk Mitch Needelman who himself faces charges of bribery and bid tampering. That contract was ended in 2013 by Clerk Ellis following a competitive bid process that Penn Credit lost. The office has had no further dealings with Penn Credit. Penn Credit’s attempts to bribe Clerk Ellis and senior staff by funneling donations to favored charities in exchange for Penn Credit keeping its accounts was immediately declined and was brought to the attention of federal authorities during their investigation of Penn Credit. In keeping our commitment to protect our constituents from wrong doing, our office fully and unequivocally assisted the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois in securing criminal charges against Penn Credit’s owners, including providing grand jury testimony in 2019. Any insinuation that this office participated in Penn Credit’s criminal conspiracy is reckless and baseless, and ignores our office’s mission to serve the public and assist law enforcement, wherever and whenever possible.” Rachel M. SadoffClerk of the Circuit Court & ComptrollerBrevard County, Florida ###About the Clerk Rachel M. Sadoff is Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller for Brevard County, Florida. Elected without opposition in 2020, she is the county’s first female Clerk & Comptroller, serving as Clerk of Court, County Comptroller, Clerk to the Board of County Commissioners, County Auditor, and County Recorder for the Space Coast’s 600,000 residents.RACHEL M. SADOFFClerk of the Circuit Court & ComptrollerBrevard County, Florida Post Office Box 999Titusville, Florida 32781-0999(321) 637-5413www.brevardclerk.us | @brevardclerkVisit Our Website
Brevard to re-examine active contract with Penn Credit after indictment
Dave Berman, Florida TodayPublished 3:12 p.m. ET March 22, 2019 | Updated 3:30 p.m. ET March 22, 2019
Brevard County Manager Frank Abbate has asked the county attorney’s office to review contractual obligations the county has with Penn Credit Corp., and provide options to the County Commission.
Brevard County has a contract with the debt collection firm Penn Credit Corp., which last week was indicted in Illinois, along with its owner, on bribery charges.
In light of the indictment, Brevard officials plan to re-examine the county’s 4-year-long business relationship with the company, which provides its debt collection services for four county departments.
There is no indication that Penn Credit did anything improper to win the Brevard County government contract.
Still, Brevard County Manager Frank Abbate has asked the county attorney’s office to review contractual obligations the county has with Penn Credit “to determine what options the Board of County Commissioners can consider and pursue,” according to Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker.
“Based on the input we receive from the county attorney, will follow up with the board appropriately,” Walker said, possibly as early as the County Commission’s April 9 meeting.
A federal indictment returned in Chicago last week accused Penn Credit owner and Chief Executive Officer Donald Donagher Jr. of seeking to corruptly influence and obtain business from court clerks in Florida and Illinois through bribes and gifts.
The 23-page indictment, for example, details allegations involving Penn Credit’s unsuccessful attempt to get a contract renewal from the Brevard County Clerk of Courts Office.
Not mentioned in the indictment is a contract the company has with Brevard County government that currently involves debt collection services for four county departments.
Steven Darling Jr., Brevard County’s purchasing services and contracts manager, said one option the county has is to unilaterally end the contract — without citing a reason — if the county provides 30 days’ written notice to Penn.
Darling said Brevard’s current contract with Penn Credit piggybacks on a contract the company has with Seminole County. That has been the arrangement since February 2018.
From January 2015 through January 2018, Brevard had a separate contract with Penn Credit.
Darling said four Brevard County departments have used Penn’s debt collection services: fire rescue, parks and recreation, planning and zoning, and utility services. Fire rescue uses Penn to collect on unpaid ambulance services bills, while the other departments use the company to help collect various unpaid bills, fees and costs of county services.
Penn received a percentage of the money it collects from people who owe Brevard County money, with the current arrangement being 16 percent if the debt is collected without the use of an attorney and 20 percent if an attorney is involved. In all, Penn has received $65,359 from the county since 2015, Darling said.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, “from 2009 to 2016, Donagher and Penn Credit provided money and services to benefit the court clerks and related individuals and entities, corruptly seeking favorable treatment in the awarding of the courts’ debt collection work.”
Citing details contained in the indictment, the statement said: “The efforts included payments to certain clerks’ campaign committees, donations to charities supported by certain clerks, financial sponsorship of events hosted by certain clerks, and free or discounted ‘robocalls’ made by Penn Credit on behalf of certain clerks’ campaigns.”
The indictment charges Donagher and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Penn Credit with one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and five counts of federal program bribery. Donagher is a resident of Palm Beach Gardens and of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
The conspiracy charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, while the maximum sentence for federal program bribery is 10 years.
Attorneys for Donagher have denied claims of wrongdoing.
According to the indictment, around February 2013, Donagher met with Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis and members of Ellis’ staff to discuss the bidding process for a debt collection contract.
Prosecutors said Donagher offered campaign contributions to Ellis; help in paying for a clerk’s office picnic; and money to buy shirts for employees to wear at charity events.
Donagher persisted with the offers, even after learning of Ellis’ practice of not accepting campaign contributions or other gifts from those seeking to do business with the office, according to the indictment.
The indictment also details a Dec. 16, 2014, meeting with Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey and Titusville Fire Chief Michael Woodward.
Prosecutors allege Donagher had “checks totaling approximately $15,500, made out to Brevard County charities.”
An email from Donagher to Ellis that was cited in the indictment indicates that some of the money went to the Brevard County Animal Services operation overseen by Ivey, as well as to the Shop with a Cop gift program for children and another toy program overseen by the Titusville Fire Department. The email lists Mothers Against Drunk Driving as another recipient of a donation.
Federal prosecutors said Donagher “met with (Ivey) and asked the sheriff to call (Ellis).”
The indictment said that, at the time the donation was made, Donagher wanted Ivey to call and let Ellis know Donagher was “a good guy,” and that Donagher didn’t want to lose his contract with the Brevard County Clerk of the Court.
The clerk’s office, however, did not select the company or its services.
According to Darling, the Brevard County Clerk of the Court’s Office currently has three other companies performing collection service work.
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tod Goodyear on Friday said the BCSO “never had a business relationship with (Donagher) or a contract with him, or anything like that. He did, several years ago, make donations to several charities.”
Additionally, Donagher “went through the process to become a volunteer at Animal Services,” Goodyear said. “However, he never performed any volunteer hours.”
Brevard School District Chief Financial Officer Pennie Zuercher said she is not aware of any dealings between the school district and Penn Credit.
Representatives of Brevard County Property Appraiser’s Office, Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Office and Brevard County Tax Collector’s Office said those government entities do not have dealings with Penn Credit.
A Pennsylvania-based debt collector who sought contracts from at least three Florida county court clerks to chase down people who owe money to the county court clerks has been charged with paying out political bribes to land contracts.
On March 15, a federal prosecutor in Chicago announced the charges against Donald Donagher Jr., who had owned and served as CEO of Penn Credit Corporation.
According to the indictment, Donagher and Penn Credit, from 2009 to November 2016 used campaign donations and free political services, among other offerings, to secure “favorable treatment for Penn Credit” in the pursuit of lucrative debt collection deals with the clerks of court in Orange, Brevard and St. Johns counties, as well as in Cook County, Ill.
According to the indictment, the alleged activities began in Chicago in 2011, where Donagher allegedly contributed to a scholarship fund administered by Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, just weeks before Penn Credit landed the debt collection contract there.
From there, the indictment says, Donagher allegedly steered more campaign donations and political services on behalf of Brown, as well as other donations to causes led by Brown or affiliated with her office.
Brown has not been charged in connection with Donagher’s alleged activities.
In all, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said the alleged bribes amounted to “tens of thousands of dollars.”
In 2013, the indictment says, Donagher met with Brevard County Courts Clerk Scott Ellis, identified in the indictment as “Clerk D,” to discuss the upcoming debt collection bid process. According to the indictment, Donagher at that time offered Ellis campaign contributions, as well as to “partially or fully subsidize a picnic for the Clerk’s office” and to “purchase shirts for Clerk’s Office employees to wear at charity events.”
“Donagher persisted with these offers even after learning of Clerk D’s state practice of not accepting anything, including campaign contributions, from vendors or prospective vendors doing or seeking to do business with the Clerk’s Office or Brevard County,” the indictment said.
A few months later, the indictment said Donagher contributed $15,500 to “Brevard County charities” after meeting with the Brevard County sheriff and Titusville fire chief. He then allegedly asked those officials, asking them to tell the Brevard County Courts Clerk that he was “a good guy” and “didn’t want to lose his contract.”
Penn Credit did not obtain the Brevard courts clerk’s debt collection contract in 2014, the indictment said.
After that, Donagher allegedly sent an email to the Brevard clerk’s office, offering to donate $75,000-$112,500 paid from “50 percent of all of our fees generated January 2015 through May 15th, paid monthly,” if the clerk would let Penn Credit continue its work on behalf of the county courts clerk.
In Orange County, Donagher allegedly instructed Penn Credit employees in 2014 to get behind the campaign of Courts Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell, saying: “Early money always wins.”
In December 2014, the indictment said Donagher met with Russell, identified as “Clerk C,” and donated $2,500 “to a charity selected by Clerk C.”
In February 2015, Donagher allegedly hired a government relations firm led by Russell’s campaign manager, “which provided the government relations firm would receive a payment of approximately $2,000 a month from Penn Credit.”
And in September 2016, the indictment said Donagher allegedly sent an email to Penn Credit employees, saying about “Clerk C:” “She busted my stones and said [another debt collection company competing for the same contract] ponied up another 10k.”
He then directed his employees to send enough money through a lobbyist to reach “20k.”
And in St. Johns County, the indictment alleges Donagher in 2016 wrote five $1,000 checks to the campaign of Courts Clerk Hunter S. Conrad, identified as “Clerk E.” Those were followed by additional donations in 2016 totaling $3,000 more.
In November 2016, the indictment says Donagher received a note from a lobbyist asking if he had seen a note from “Clerk E” “thanking the lobbyist for his ‘generous support and help during my campaign.” The indictment said Donagher replied “I did. It would be nice to have the whole account. 100 percent.”
None of the three Florida courts clerks face allegations of wrongdoing stemming from Donagher’s indictment or alleged actions.
In all, Donagher, 67, faces one count of conspiracy and five counts of bribery.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, if convicted, Donagher could receive up to 5 years in prison under the conspiracy charge, and 10 years for bribery.