WEST PALM BEACH — The scenario sounds like something out of a Central American political nightmare: A candidate for office gets arrested by the incumbent and an ally on trumped-up charges.
Yet, we’re not talking about Honduras or Nicaragua here.
This actually occurred in Palm Beach County, and Gossip Extra‘s the only news media with the story — as usual.
Law enforcement consultant Jim Donahue, 67, was teaching a policing class at a symposium in Fort Lauderdale March 17, 2011 when Broward County Sheriff’s deputies assisted by colleagues from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office arrested him.
The charges, they told him, were five felonies that, combined, could’ve sent Donahue to prison for the rest of his life.
No news media covered the arrest, never mind that Donahue was the most credible candidate who filed against incumbent Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Donahue opted to close his campaign and focused on fighting the charges.
“They were looking for stuff on me for months,” Donahue tells Gossip Extra, “and this, because I told the sheriff that, as far as I was concerned, they were mishandling $15 million that they were supposed to spend on computers. They lost a bunch of money stupidly.
“When I saw they were not going to do anything about it, I told the sheriff that I was going to run for his job and expose his mismanagement.
“I filed my candidacy right after the new year.”
By March, PBSO detective Kenneth Mark Lewis had put together a case that made Donahue look like a police-impersonating maniac, and the office of then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, a staunch Bradshaw supporter, gave the go-ahead for an arrest, records show.
Lewis, by the way, is the Internal Affairs investigator who was secretly taped spilling some PBSO secrets to a woman he’d never met in conversations we published yesterday. Lewis could be heard telling the woman his job includes checking out with a fine-tooth comb those who “attack” the sheriff and their families.
In time, Lewis even took a taxpayer-funded trip to Michigan and Canada to dig up dirt on Midwest native Donahue.
But it’s in PBSO’s own archives that Lewis got the bullets to use on Donahue, in a job application for deputy that Donahue filed in 2008.
According to Lewis’ probable cause affidavit, Donahue didn’t get the job because, according to records, of past drug use, omissions and untruthfulness on his application.
But what grabbed Lewis’ attention were four letters of reference that, Lewis claims, were altered, counterfeited and/or forged by Donahue.
“That was bullshit and they know it,” Donahue said of the investigation. “They got my references to say they either didn’t sign their letters or that they didn’t remember writing them.”
So Donahue set out to fight the charges.
What happened in Feb. 2012, however, was even more shocking.
“A week before trial, my lawyer tells me (State Attorney) McAuliffe’s office was willing to drop all the felonies in exchange for a guilty plea on a misdemeanor,” Donahue says. “I told them I’d rather got to trial.”
The day before the jury was to hear the case, McAuliffe’s office filed a terse memo announcing it would not prosecute Donahue.
Gossip Extra obtained the memo, and it is unlike most papers closing a case: While prosecutors almost always write four or five pages explaining in great details why they’re not pursuing criminal allegations, Donahue’s bears no explanations, or apologies.
McAuliffe, who now works for Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch, did not respond to an email for comment on why the usual paperwork wasn’t produced in Donahue’s case.
Bradshaw, who was reelected to a third term with 80 percent of the votes later that year, doesn’t comment on stories from news organizations that he thinks are against him, including Gossip Extra.
And Donahue moved to the Daytona Beach area and went back to traveling the country to train police officers and sheriff’s deputies in law enforcement procedures.
Two months ago, Donahue says he received a request out of the blue to chat with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The G-men he met at the Daytona field office didn’t tell him much about why hey were working on, but Donahue said he spent two hours talking about PBSO.
“They were particularly interested in my arrest,” Donahue said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Bradshaw’s goal was to kill my campaign, and I told those (FBI) guys.
“They asked me a lot of questions about PBSO’s political apparatus.”