The former CEO of a Pennsylvania debt-collection company admitted Tuesday making payments to support former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s Women’s History Month program to reward her for business he thought she steered his way.
Donald Donagher Jr., 69, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count alleging he paid $869 in March 2014 to a Morton Grove trophy company that provided plaques for the program. He also admitted he had $1,000 paid to a company that catered the event.
Donagher did so to illegally reward Brown, according to his plea agreement. His company, Penn Credit Corporation, was one of two vendors that had a contract to perform debt-collection work for the county, and he thought Brown had given the two companies equal work.
After agreeing to cover the expenses, Donagher forwarded an email from a member of Brown’s staff to employees and lobbyists and wrote, “Can you guys go to this on our behalf? We are sponsoring the entire thing.” He also wrote that he told Brown’s staff member that “we are fans” of Brown.
He added, “we gotta stay ahead” of the competing vendor.
Penn Credit entered into a separate two-year deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office on Tuesday. In doing so, it agreed to pay a $225,000 fine.
Donagher’s sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 21.
The feds in 2019 said Donagher and Penn Credit conspired to bribe Brown and other elected clerks in Florida with gifts, campaign contributions, consulting contracts and donations to affiliated charities.
But U.S. District Judge John Lee agreed earlier this year to throw out three of the six bribery counts leveled against Donagher and the business, explaining that charges related to campaign contributions had to show an “explicit” quid pro quo. The judge said the indictment filed in the case “does not sufficiently do that.”
The February ruling amounted to a rare blow to federal prosecutors in Chicago.
The indictment alleged that Donagher in February 2012 told an employee to make hundreds of thousands of robocalls to Cook County residents for Brown’s campaign, neither collecting payment nor sending an invoice to Brown.
Instead, later that year, it said Donagher sent an email to two of Penn Credit’s lobbyists in Illinois and told them to make sure Penn Credit was getting the same amount of debt-collection work from Brown’s office as the competitor.
“Just a reminder that we made a s—-load of calls for [Brown],” Donagher wrote, according to the indictment. “Have you received all of the numbers we requested to make sure everything is equal?”
In July 2013, it also said Donagher sent an email to two of his employees and an Illinois lobbyist about a Brown campaign fundraiser. Donagher wrote, “We will give as much plus a dollar,” as compared to the competing debt-collection company, the indictment said.
The feds have made no secret that they once targeted Brown in a yearslong corruption probe. But Brown was never charged and denies wrongdoing. She left office last year.
The investigation of Brown’s tenure in the circuit clerk’s office also led to perjury charges against former clerk employee Sivasubramani Rajaram and onetime high-ranking clerk official Beena Patel. Rajaram was sentenced in 2017 to three years of probation, and Patel was sentenced in late 2019 to two years in prison.
Prosecutors accused Patel of derailing the investigation into the circuit clerk’s office by lying to a grand jury.