Sunday, February 21, 2021

St. Johns County clerk: Office has no current ties to business indicted in bribery case. (SAR)

HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD, elected Clerk of Courts and Comptroller November 8, 2016, resigned November 19, 2019 to accept newly-available position as County Administrator.

I would consider this story somewhat exculpatory re: HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD, but:

  • county and state offices are stifling my Open Records requests in the day since this spin piece appeared. and
  • CONRAD he resigned from his elected position the same year as the indictment;
  • CONRAD accepted the St. Johns County Administrator job, without EEO posting/ advertising 
  • CONRAD got the job without a background check, and 
  • CONRAD got the job without disclosing his being "Clerk E" in a federal grand jury indictment alleging bribery and conspiracy, with a government contractor accused of giving him $8000 in campaign contributions intended as a bribe;
  • CONRAD used the spokesman for St. Johns County, Michael Ryan, to answer questions, when the questions involve his partisan political activity being funded (8%) by an alleged bribe payer who allegedly gave him $8000 in campaign contributions intended as a bribe.

CONRAD's sins have found him out.  We have a Right to Know.

Time to send me the documents, Messrs. Patty, Conrad, Miner and McCormack. 


From, St. Augustine Record: 

St. Johns County clerk: Office has no current ties to business indicted in bribery case

Sheldon Gardner

St. Augustine Record

St. Johns County's clerk of court said the office cut ties with a debt collection company a few years ago after learning of a bribery investigation involving the company and its owner.

The statement came in response to a request for information from certain Florida clerks of court this month from Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. 

Former St. Johns County Clerk of Courts Hunter Conrad

An indictment was filed in 2019 against Penn Credit Corporation and Donald Donagher Jr., who led the business during that time. The indictment says that Donagher and Penn Credit gave and offered to give gifts and services to several clerks of court, or people or groups affiliated with them, in an attempt to get "favorable treatment for Penn Credit in the award, allocation and retention of debt collection work."

The case is in United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois. It was delayed by COVID-19, but has another status hearing on Feb. 19. 

Allegations against Penn Credit 

Among other things, the indictment alleges that Donagher tried to influence former St. Johns County Clerk of Court Hunter Conrad, who is the current county administrator, through contributions to his campaign account. Conrad, who was clerk from 2015 to 2019, hasn't been accused of wrongdoing. 

In 2016, Donagher arranged $8,000 be donated to Conrad's election campaign from himself, Penn Credit, Donagher entities and a Florida lobbyist, according to the indictment. 

Brandon Patty

"On or about Nov. 17, 2016, in response to an email from a Florida lobbyist asking if Donagher had seen a note from Clerk E (Conrad) thanking the lobbyist for his 'generous support and help during my campaign,' Donagher replied in an email to the lobbyist and employees A, D and E, and others: 'I did. It would be nice to have the whole account. 100 percent.'"

Conrad wasn't available for an interview with The Record on Wednesday but issued a statement:

“The St. Johns County Clerk of Courts Office canceled the contract with Penn Credit, which was one of its three collection companies, in 2018 after being made aware of the allegations and ongoing federal investigation. As a former prosecutor and elected official ... I have devoted my career to upholding the public trust.” 

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County spokesman Michael Ryan added, via email to The Record, that "Conrad received more than 350 donations during the campaign and every donor received a thank-you note." 

Information wasn't immediately available about the bidding process that Penn Credit went through to get its contract with the clerk's office, but Ryan said it was a legitimate bidding process. 

Related:New St. Johns County administrator took 'unorthodox' path to the top

Contract was terminated two years ago

Patronis asked for clerks to respond within 30 days about their business ties with Penn Credit. 

Current St. Johns County Clerk of Court Brandon Patty released a statement on Wednesday:

“The St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller informed CFO Jimmy

Patronis on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, that it has no current contract with Penn Credit.

Previously, the Clerk’s Office had a contract with Penn Credit, which was terminated on

Oct. 1, 2018, by giving a 60-day written notice.

"The St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller is zealously committed to preserving and promoting the public trust and good government here in St. Johns County.”

As of Feb. 3, the Clerk's Office listed Penn Credit Corporation as one of its collection agencies on a webpage. According to Patty, the listing was on an old webpage, and the listing has been removed. 

Patronis said, via a press release, that "The facts laid out by the U.S. Department of Justice illustrate public corruption and moral depravity at the highest levels of certain local governments. The indictment includes charges against Penn Credit for violating federal laws concerning bribery and conspiracy relating to federally funded programs.

"Specifically, Penn Credit is alleged to have offered and given gifts and services to five clerks of court for the purposes of receiving favorable treatment in the award of debt collection work. The indictment includes alarming allegations of bids rigging, fee hikes, squashing competitive bidding and more. Of the five clerks in the complaint, four are Florida clerks from three different Florida counties."

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Indictment is 'meritless'

Don Donagher and Penn Credit have denied wrongdoing, according to a 2019 press release. 

"The indictment presents a novel and meritless theory based on conduct that allegedly occurred long ago," according to the release. "First, the government has charged Mr. Donagher with bribery related offenses, but it has not charged any public official or even claim that a public official was a supposed co-conspirator. Second, unlike the long line of corruption cases that have been prosecuted in Chicago, this case has none of the standard hallmarks of bribery and corruption. 

"There are no allegations of secret cash payments. There are no allegations of concealed payments to shell companies. There are no allegations of lavish gifts or free vacations. In fact, there are no allegations that Mr. Donagher did anything to personally enrich any public official. Simply put, none of the usual indicia of corrupt activity are present in this case. Instead, the Department of Justice is attempting to criminalize entirely lawful, publicly-disclosed campaign contributions and laudatory donations to various charities, a scholarship fund and the partial sponsoring of a Women’s History Month event."

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