The owner of a debt collection company spent tens of thousands of dollars in an effort to corruptly influence and obtain business from court clerks in Florida and Illinois, including the Brevard County Clerk of Court, according to a federal indictment returned in Chicago.
67-year-old Donald Donagher, Jr. of Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Harrisburg, Pa.-based Penn Credit Corporation.
According to the charges, Donagher met with Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis, and representatives of the Clerk’s office in February 2013 regarding Ellis’ intention to initiate the bid process for a debt collection contract for the Office of the Clerk of Brevard County.
Donagher allegedly offered Ellis: (i) campaign contributions; (ii) to partially or fully subsidize a picnic for the Clerk’s Office; and (iii) to purchase shirts for Clerk’s Office employees to wear at charity events.
The indictment states that Donagher persisted with these offers even after learning of Ellis’ stated 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.
On or about December 16, 2014, Donagher met with Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey and the Fire Chief of Titusville, to whom Donagher provided checks totaling approximately $15,500, made out to Brevard County charities.
Donagher asked Ivey to call Ellis and let Ellis know that Donagher was a “good guy” and that Donagher didn’t want to lose his contract with the Office of the Brevard County Clerk of the Court.
Penn Credit Corporation was originally awarded a contract with the Brevard Clerk of Courts for debt collection services by Ellis’ predecessor, Mitch Needelman, which gave Penn Credit a 40% collection fee. Ellis sought to reduce the fees and ultimately awarded contracts to new debt collectors that charged a 25% collection fee.
Brevard County Supervisor of Elections records show that Donagher and other donors with the same surname located in Pennsylvania contributed a total of $2,000 to Needelman’s campaign against Ellis in the 2012 Clerk of Courts election.
On or about December 17, 2014, Donagher forwarded an email regarding the charitable donations he had made the day before in five counties in Florida, and wrote to a Penn Credit salesperson located in Florida: “Pray for [Brevard Clerk of Court] to pick us as one of the agencies.”
On or about December 31, 2014, after learning that Penn Credit had not been selected to continue as a debt collection vendor for the Office of the Brevard County Clerk of the Court, Donagher sent the following email to Ellis and his staff that stated in part:
Penn Credit is scheduled to discontinue collections on our remaining portfolio/accounts on January 5th.
. . .
What I am proposing is that Penn Credit would keep the current inventory until May 15th. As a gesture of good will we will donate 50 percent of all of our fees generated January 2015 through May 15th, paid monthly to charities within Brevard County, and if you feel comfortable, they can be charities of your choice.
We have recently (December 2014) made sizable donations to charitable causes in Brevard County in the amount $15,500 including 2,000 to MADD, 6,000 to the County Animal Services program recently taken over by [Sheriff of Brevard County], 2000 for Shop with a cop program and 5500 for toys for children through the North Brevard Children’s program. This was administered by [Titusville Fire Department Chief] of the Titusville fire department.
We sent 10 kids with 5 firemen and a hook and ladder truck to Orlando’s Toys R us and each child bought 500 dollars worth of toys for other children, topped of [sic.] by dinner at McDonalds.
We have made commitments to the animal shelter and the fire department this year as well.
We estimate that within the next 4 months we can both do a great thing, and donate anywhere between 75,000 and 112,500 dollars, and make a lot of animals and children of Brevard County happy!
We have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. We can do much good here. I personally am going to donate time monthly as a volunteer at the Animal Shelter.
Hopefully I won’t have to clean out the dog cages every time!
Titusville Fire personnel load up toys at Toys R Us in December 2015. The toys were purchased with Donagher’s donation.
Titusville Fire personnel load up toys at Toys R Us in December 2015. The toys were purchased with Donagher’s donation. Credit: Titusville Fire Department
Although Donagher was unsuccessful with Ellis, who is well-known for his watchdog anti-corruption stance in Brevard County government, Donagher did manage to take the Orange County Clerk of Courts to a strip club in West Palm Beach, Florida where Donagher used a Penn Credit credit card and paid approximately $936 which covered expenses incurred by Donagher, the Orange County Clerk, and other attendees of the Florida Court Clerk & Comptrollers Conference at the strip club.
Additional efforts to influence other clerks of courts 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, according to the indictment.
The indictment was returned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. It charges Donagher and Penn Credit with one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, and five counts of federal program bribery. Arraignment in federal court in Chicago has not yet been scheduled.
The conspiracy charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, while the maximum sentence for federal program bribery is ten years. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.