On February 1st, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent letters to all 67 County Clerk offices in the state demanding to know which counties had existing contracts with an out of state vendor at the center of a 2019 federal indictment. In the letter, Patronis expressed grave concern regarding potential the possibility of “public corruption and moral depravity at the highest levels of certain governments,” stemming from the two-year old complaint laid out by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The charges against Penn Credit for violating federal laws concerning bribery and conspiracy, alleged that Penn Credit engaged in bid rigging, fee hikes, and offering gifts and services to five different Florida clerks of court in four different counties, in exchange for favorable treatment in the award of debt collection work, which the clerks rely on to collect court costs, fines and fees.
But Florida’s Clerks say the issue has largely been resolved after Penn Credit went through a corporate shakeup, and the indictments came to light.
A representative of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association says most, if not all of the state’s county clerks planned to meet Patronis’s deadline, and that the CFO’s concerns with Penn Credit have largely been dealt with over the ensuing two years. In all four specific county cases, the clerks mentioned in the Penn Credit indictment no longer held public office, and any new existing contracts with Penn Credit met state vendor certification requirements.
A number of clerks responded to Patronis that Penn Credit had never been a vendor in their respective counties.
“At no time during my service have I contracted with nor has my office entered into any business relationship with Penn Credit Corporation,” wrote Martin County Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann, in a letter obtained by The Capitolist.
In one response sent to Patronis, Brevard County Clerk of Court Rachel Sadoff, who just took office in January, says her office no longer has active contacts with Penn Credit, but has actively cooperated with the FBI and federal prosecutors, who were looking into Penn Credit’s previous activities with her predecessors in the county.
Among Patronis’s concerns cited in his original letter, Penn Credit is alleged to have:
- Paid approximately $936 to a strip club in West Palm Beach, Florida, which payment covered expenses incurred by then Penn Credit CEO and a Florida County Clerk.
- Provided free, discounted, and in-kind campaign contributions in the form of automated telelphone calls (robocalls) for certain Clerks.
- Provided gifts to certain Clerks, including free meals and entertainment.
According to response letters sent to the CFO by some Clerks of Court in Florida, Penn Credit still provides collections services in certain counties. After the indictments two years earlier, Penn Credit removed its CEO, Don Donagher, and took drastic steps to clean up the company’s operations. The state of Florida has, since that time, also recertified Penn Credit as a vendor.
The Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers Association acknowledged that Patronis has a duty to Florida citizens to combat waste, fraud and abuse, and is vested with the authority to audit the financial activities of certain state offices. The association also indicated that all 67 county clerks stood ready to answer further questions from Patronis’s office. In the meantime, the association says it is focused on providing additional training to help recognize when vendors are pushing legal boundaries that may run afoul of Florida law.