Monday, February 08, 2021

Brevard to re-examine active contract with Penn Credit after indictment. (Florida Today)

Shortly after the March 14, 2019 federal bribery and conspiracy indictment of PENN CREDIT CORP. and owner DONALD DONAGHER, JR., Brevard County officials promised to look into the matter, as reported by GANNETT's Florida Today newspaper. 

Meanwhile, GANNETT's St. Augustine Record ignored the story, never reporting that HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller, was "Clerk E" in the federal grand jury indictment,

At age 29, politically-connected HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD was duked into the job ab initio at Sheriff DAVID SHOAR and several Commissioners' demand to Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT, who ousted George Lareau, the career Deputy Clerk chosen by the judges of the Seventh Judicial Circuit.  Then CONRAD was elected CLERK over Mr. Lareau in 2016. 

Commissioners voted November 19, 2019 to fire County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK and to offer a temporary position to CONRAD, made permanent without any background check, posting or advertising.  A background check would have revealed he is "Clerk E" in the federal indictment in United States of America v. DONALD DONAGHER, JR. and PENN CREDIT CORP..

From Florida Today:

Brevard to re-examine active contract with Penn Credit after indictment

Dave Berman

Florida Today

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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, we 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.

More:Debt collector indicted on charges he tried to bribe court clerk offices - including Brevard County

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.

Tyler Vazquez, J.D. Gallop and Caroline Glenn contributed to this report. Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY

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