CHICAGO (CBS) — A bribery scandal has landed at the doorstep of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
A grand jury has charged the owner of a debt-collection company with making payoffs, in the form of contributions to Brown’s campaign and scholarship funds, in return for county debt collection contracts.
“It was part of the conspiracy that Donagher and Penn Credit together with [company employees] and others, corruptly gave, offered, and agreed to give money, gifts and services to the Clerks–and to individuals and entities associated with the Clerks, such as their campaign committees and affiliated charities–for the purpose of seeking favorable treatment for Penn Credit in the award, allocation and retention of debt collection work,” the indictment said.
The payments were made over several years, starting in 2011, according to the charging documents. The company began collecting debts for the county in August of that year.
Donald Donagher Jr., the CEO of Penn Credit Corp, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wrote checks or electronically sent payments via Pay Pal for tens of thousands of dollars to the Friends of Dorothy Brown campaign, according to the indictment. Those payments, which started in September of 2011, ranged from $500 to $10,000 and were made multiple times.
In March 2014, Donagher, 67, also paid $869 for plaques and $1,000 for food for a Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Women’s History Month Celebration.
He also wrote a check in June 2011 for $5,000 to Brown’s scholarship and community development fund, according to the indictment.
Donagher also had his employees make campaign robo calls on behalf of Brown, in an effort to curry favorable treatment, the indictment said. Those calls were done at no cost. Donagher is also accused of sending lobbyists to ensure his company was getting an equal share of debt collection work as a competitor. “Just a reminder that we made a shitload of calls [for Brown]. Have you received all of the numbers we requested to make sure everything is equal,” Donagher wrote in a email.
Brown, who is only referred to as Clerk A in the indictment, has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Her office released the following statement regarding the indictment Friday:
Mr. Donald Donagher, Jr., never approached the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office or the Clerk improperly in any way or at any time. All contract negotiations between Penn Credit and the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County were conducted in the appropriate manner with the Cook County Procurement Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office involved at all times.
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.
Attorneys for Donagher and Pen Credit released a statement denying the allegations. The statement reads, in part, “Theodore T. Poulos, counsel to Don Donagher and Penn Credit, said, “Donating to political campaigns and charities hoping to engender good will is not a crime. That happens every day in this country.” Mr. Donagher and Penn Credit will enter pleas of not guilty and will vigorously defend themselves
against these unsupported charges. We look forward to our day in court.”
Donagher is also charged with similar schemes in Orange County, Brevard County and St. Johns County in Florida.