Obviously dissatisfied with the way the press in general, and The St. Augustine Record in particular, have reported the incident, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar told the audience that he had informed Record Editor Peter Ellis that “there will be no more interviews” regarding Tom Manuel.
Shoar addressed the meeting of the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine last night; speaking for almost an hour and answering questions from the floor concerning the investigation and conviction of former County Commissioner Thomas G. Manuel.
“There are some myths about Tom Manuel and this case,” Shoar said. “This is a liberating experience for me.”
Shoar outlined what he calls “the simple facts” pertaining to why and how law enforcement became aware of Tom Manuel’s illegal activities; then he described how “the system worked correctly in this case.”
“Two citizens met with an elected official,” Shoar explained. “Those two citizens believed that they had been solicited for money in exchange for favorable dealings with county boards.” Shoar went on to explain that local attorney George McClure and developer Bruce Robbins came to him because they were concerned what might happen to them if they did not give money to Manuel and his directed charities.
Shoar said, “I could have investigated the allegations myself, but I decided not to.” The audience later learned that in fact, Shoar went to the State Attorney, John Tanner, with the information and it was Tanner who told him to go to the FBI.
Shoar commented “I didn’t want to know exactly what they were doing,” referring to the FBI investigation of Manuel which spanned over a year. The FBI, on two separate occasions, arranged for McClure and Robbins to turn over cash to Manuel in return for his cooperation. In all, Manuel accepted a total of $60,000 in bribes; Manuel made restitution of $10,000 accepted at one meeting and agents recovered $50,000 from Manuel after another meeting as he was leaving Giovanni’s Jacksonville Beach restaurant.
“A public official was indicted, plead guilty and was sentenced for his crime,” Shoar said. “In any other case, you would think the defendant would run and hide from the media, but not in this case.”
The sheriff went on to observe that he found it odd that the press would embrace Manuel, referring to a questionnaire he received and requests to justify his part in the events surrounding the Manuel investigation. When Shoar opened his presentation, he said that “We couldn’t do our job without the media”, however, it was clear that in “the case of the United States of America vs Thomas G. Manuel,” the sheriff feels that some reporters “couldn’t get it right”.
Shoar pointed out that news reporter Peter Guinta, who was in the audience, was put in direct contact with FBI Special Agent in Charge Jim Casey who told Guinta that he was the person who authorized Shoar to confirm the investigation, if asked. Guinta’s employer, The St. Augustine Record, never published that fact and Guinta admits that he left it out of the story.
This omission by The Record and Guinta, has resulted in widespread conjecture about the correctness of the St. Johns County Sheriff in confirming media and public questions after Manuel was taken into custody and questioned by the FBI.
Shoar told Historic City News that the Manuel case has become a case “full of myths” and he puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the press who have tried to promote false theories instigated by Tom Manuel and his defenders.
“One myth,” Shoar said, “is that Manuel and Shoar didn’t get along and Shoar was out to get him.” In his presentation, Shoar gave several examples illustrating that this was not the case. “I heard chatter and allegations about Manuel from when he was on the Planning and Zoning Board,” Shoar pointed out. “It was more than saying he was corrupt or he was on the take, the similarities became so specific that I couldn’t ignore them any further without committing misfeasance.”
“Donate to my political action committee, donate to my charities or lobbyists,” Shoar recounted. “Then there was some affordable housing scheme when he was on the PZB.” The Sheriff remembered one instance when he heard about Manuel’s offer to accept a $600,000 payoff that involved a Sonny’s Franchise in another state in order to get him to stay out of the race for commissioner.
“Another myth,” Shoar said, “was that Manuel was anti-growth or anti-development.” At a dinner with Manuel, he was caught telling McClure and Robbins on tape that in return for money, he could grease the wheels at the county commission and would be their “go-to guy.”
“Another myth,” Shoar said, “was that George McClure and Bruce Robbins are part of some cabal of developers out to get Manuel. There was absolutely no up-side for them to come forward and testify. They took the tough road.” Shoar says that McClure and Robbins are great examples of good citizens who are willing to jeopardize potential future consequences before the Board of County Commissioners by telling the truth to authorities.
Shoar observed that “there is an epidemic of public corruption”, however, he summed up by reassuring the audience, regardless of what they may have read in the newspaper — or what they didn’t read, St. Johns County is not corrupt.
Photo credit: © 2009 Historic City News staff photograph