Thomas Manuel: probation or prison

Historic City News will be on hand tomorrow for the scheduled sentencing in the bribery trial of suspended St. Johns County Commissioner Thomas G. Manuel before U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan.

Manuel’s Jacksonville attorney, Gray Thomas, appeared in court last month asking that Corrigan sentence Manuel to probation. In his motion, he cited Manuel’s poor health and the child care needs of their 11-year-old daughter. Manuel is a heart transplant recipient who, according to court records, suffers from bipolar disorder.

The defense has also argued that Manuel was cooperating shortly after his arrest and was unfairly deprived the opportunity to earn “sentencing credit” because, they claim, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar publicly disclosed the investigation.

Shoar told Historic City News that he “did not leak information about the investigation”. Shoar said he was contacted in 2008 by a news reporter who saw federal agents detain Manuel outside of Giovanni’s Jacksonville Beach restaurant. After that happened, Shoar says the FBI gave him permission to confirm it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Savell is arguing that transcripts of several of Manuel’s conversations, that were turned over to the court last week, oblige Manuel to serve a prison sentence calculated at 37 to 46 months; according to federal guidelines.

On July 31, 2008, 64 year-old Manuel pleaded guilty to bribery and admitted receiving two payments totaling $60,000 from representatives of The Falcone Group in exchange for his support of the developer’s projects.

In addition to the cash bribes that actually changed hands, Savell said Manuel demanded money be paid to his political action committee and the St. Johns County Council on Aging to benefit his constituents in the Ponte Vedra Beach area.

During the year Manuel was being recorded by the FBI, Savell contends the tapes show the pressure intensifying.

Ironically, Manuel defeated incumbent Bruce Maguire in the 2006 Republican primary, in part because of criticism that his opponent was “too friendly with developers”.

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