Monday, June 21, 2010

St. Augustine Record: Questions for Sheriff Shoar, and Attorney George McClure

Posted: June 20, 2010 - 12:03am

We have invited St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar to meet with us to answer questions that remain in the wake of the Tom Manuel case.

Manuel, a former St. Johns County commissioner, was sentenced in January for accepting two bribes totaling $60,000, and is now in prison serving a 21-month sentence followed by three years probation, including 16 months of house arrest.

We started asking for an interview with the sheriff in January before Manuel's sentencing when one of our reporters called him. Since then, our associate editor, our editorial page editor and I have spoken with the sheriff and asked him to meet with us.

Our publisher has communicated with him several times, and I met with him informally for two hours in April to discuss having a formal meeting with our Editorial Board and a reporter, after which he said he would meet with us.

Shortly after that, the sheriff reiterated to our publisher that he would meet with us and added that he would bring George McClure, an attorney, with him. McClure first went to the sheriff with concerns about the legality of Manuel's actions.

Since May, the sheriff has not responded to our publisher's requests for a meeting.

Each of our conversations has been cordial, with the sheriff being polite, yet not agreeing to answer our questions.

Yet the questions remain, so today I am sharing with you the questions we have for the sheriff:

Question No. 1:

What did McClure and Bruce Robbins, a developer's representative from Atlantic Beach who was the confidential informant who gave Manuel the money, tell you that made you decide to go to the FBI?

In our conversation in April, you said that Manuel was involved with a Jacksonville businessman who was part of the scheme that led you to the FBI. What was that man's role, and are other arrests possible in this case?

Question No. 2:

One of the issues that came up in the Manuel case was whether you had authorization to confirm that Manuel was the target of an FBI investigation. Manuel's attorney had argued that by making the case public you damaged his chances to cooperate with the FBI and earn a lower sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Hackenberry Savell told the judge at Manuel's sentencing that: "People were coming to Sheriff Shoar and told him what was going on and he made the decision (to make it public); That was not approved by the FBI or our office. He had no authorization of disclosure."

You have said that the FBI did give you permission and you have said that you are an experienced law enforcement officer who knows that to reveal an investigation without permission would have been an obstruction of justice. Also, you pointed out that if you had obstructed justice, you would have been arrested by now.

Yet Savell has not retracted her statement, which is a very serious charge.

Have you filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney, the Florida Bar or any other legal ethics group about Savell for making the statement in court that you say is not true?

Question No. 3:

Former State Attorney John Tanner has said you never asked him to investigate Manuel, contradicting your statement, "Tanner told me, 'I'm going into an election and quite honestly, we're not really equipped to deal with these cases, and he suggested calling the FBI." You said that on March 8.

Tanner told one of our reporters that he first learned of Manuel's problems when he read about them in The Record. That was more than a year after the investigation began. Tanner also said law enforcement people often seek out federal investigations because they have tougher penalties and are more difficult to win.

In January, the Ponte Vedra Recorder quoted you as saying, "I could have gone to Florida Department of Law Enforcement but they have a lot of local ties."

So which is it: Did you go to the state first, either Tanner or the FDLE, or did you go directly to the FBI?

And if you first went to Tanner before going to the FBI, have you filed a complaint with the Florida Bar Grievance Committee or any other lawyer ethics group against Tanner for making a statement that you say is not true and could harm your reputation?

Question No. 4:

McClure, the attorney and FBI confidential informant, said the FBI asked him to tape his telephone conversation with you on June 11, 2008. You have said you were not a target of an FBI surveillance because you said the FBI was already taping McClure's phone. "You can't just turn a wiretap off," you said.

The tape shows that McClure tagged the surveillance tape before you picked up the phone with these words: "Call to David Shoar, 9:35 p.m., June 11, 2008." That makes it appear that McClure did tape Shoar deliberately, as he said he did.

Are you trying to divert attention from why the FBI wanted this conversation tape recorded? Has the FBI told you why they were taping your conversation?

Also, you have told people that you knew you were being tape recorded. If that was the case, why did you say things, such as criticizing some public figures?

Question No. 5:

You have acknowledged that you have bridges to build with the FBI because of your statement to FolioWeekly: "(An FBI spokesperson) is going to give you (the) 'Traditionally we don't do that (response).' Well, traditionally you dumb bastards don't get observed in a restaurant taking a guy into custody, either."

When we met, you told me that you went to the FBI and sat around a table with 12 people and apologized for your statement.

Having a good working relationship with the FBI is important to your ability to do your job as sheriff. What success have you had so far in improving your relationship with the FBI?

Question No. 6:

Tom Manuel was sworn into office on Nov. 21, 2006. The next day your schedule listed you as having a two-hour luncheon with Bruce Robbins, the developer's representative for Twin Creeks and the FBI confidential informant who gave bribes to Manuel in April and June 2008. Your calendar said the purpose of the luncheon was to discuss a "land donation" at the intersection of County Road 210 and U.S. 1. Why would you, the sheriff, meet with a developer's representative to discuss a developer's possible land donation?

Question No. 7:

In the course of our reporting for the series of stories we ran earlier this year, we interviewed Ron Chapman, a well-known criminal attorney from West Palm Beach. Here's what he told us:

"What is the informant getting in exchange for his noble deed? Some informants, they get a set amount of money per case. They rarely do it as a community service. It's more likely they're working off charges (against themselves) or getting paid. It may have been that he is just doing his civic duty, and he should be commended for that. Or maybe, he had an axe to grind. Maybe he hated this guy (Manuel). I would definitely want to know if he's getting any type of preferential treatment at all."

Was Robbins compensated in any way? Did Robbins have an axe to grind with Manuel? Did Robbins receive any leniency for any potential charges that could have been brought against him?

The following questions are for George McClure:

You have said that you taped the June 11, 2008 conversation with the sheriff because the FBI wanted to know what Shoar and Manuel had said earlier that day in a telephone conversation. On that day, Manuel was an informant for the FBI himself and said he taped that conversation and had already turned it over to the FBI by the time you spoke with Shoar. We know for a fact that Manuel taped that conversation because we have a copy of that tape.

Why did the FBI ask you to tape the conversation with Shoar? Did they ask you to tape any other conversations with Shoar and, if so, why?

* n n

I've been a journalist for 38 years, and I have never before done what I'm doing today: Sharing with readers questions that an elected official won't let us ask him.

Before I wrote this, I called Kelly McBride, an ethicist at Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, and asked her if sharing these questions with readers was ethical.

Absolutely, she told me. Public officials have an obligation to answer legitimate questions from the public and the press. I think these are legitimate questions.

I am also concerned that it will appear that we're picking on the sheriff and McClure by asking these questions. As background, these inconsistencies came from the sheriff's statements, not from us. We feel an obligation to follow up on the questions that the sheriff and McClure have raised.


Pete Ellis is editor of The Record and welcomes your comments. He may be reached at (904)819-3517, or by commenting at the end of this column on our website,

No comments: