Federal prosecutors in Chicago announced corruption charges Friday against a Pennsylvania debt collection firm and its owner for allegedly making campaign contributions and offering gifts to Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown in exchange for a contract within her office.
Penn Credit Corporation and its owner, Donald Donagher, Jr., face conspiracy and bribery-related charges in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on Thursday. Brown was identified in the court document as “Clerk A” but not charged.
The development brings an ongoing federal investigation into alleged criminal practices within the circuit clerk’s office closer to Brown’s door. Her office did not respond to a WBEZ request for comment shortly after the announcement late Friday afternoon.
Federal investigators alleged that Donagher and his company made thousands of dollars in political contributions to Brown’s campaign fund, donated to a scholarship set up under her name and paid for automated calls to potential voters during her successful 2012 re-election to a fourth term in office.
Donagher committed to a $10,000 contribution to Brown less than three weeks after Penn Credit began collecting debt for the clerk’s office in 2011, the indictment alleged.
Prosecutors alleged that Donagher paid for “hundreds of thousands of robocalls” to Cook County residents for Brown’s 2012 re-election campaign and later that year directed lobbyists of his company to make sure it got an equal amount of debt collection work as another competing vendor in Brown’s office.
“Just a reminder that we made a s***load of calls for [first name of Clerk A],” Donagher allegedly wrote in an email to two Penn Credit lobbyists in Illinois.
In 2014, Donagher allegedly underwrote the costs of a Women’s History Month event Brown organized and paid for plaques on her behalf.
In an email to the company’s Illinois lobbyists and an unnamed employee, Donagher allegedly recounted a conversation he had had with a top Brown aide. “I told her we are fans of [first name of Clerk A.] We gotta stay ahead of [competitor debt collection company]!!”
Theodore Poulos, an attorney for Donagher and Penn Credit, released a statement late Friday saying the allegations are false and the Department of Justice should not have brought the case.
"Penn Credit never sought and never received any improper benefit from any public official. Indeed, the contracts Penn Credit received from Cook County and other government entities were awarded to it purely on the merits," Poulos said.
Poulos said that Donagher and Penn Credit "will vigorously defend themselves against these unsupported charges."
Dave McKinney covers state politics and government, and Shannon Heffernon covers criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow him @davemckinney and her @shannon_h.