A new breed of high-volume bail bond company is jeopardizing public safety for profits in California, enabling hundreds of criminal defendants to flee while costing county treasuries millions of dollars in unpaid bail, says the Los Angeles Times. The California Department of Insurance and prosecutors around the state are investigating alleged corruption in the industry that could bring charges of perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and unlawful business practices.
Court records indicate that some firms have been issuing bail bonds to serious offenders without requiring sufficient collateral – property pledged by a defendant to guarantee that a bond will be repaid. That greatly increases the risk that dangerous felons will flee. Investigators believe that some have made bail easier to get in order to collect a steady stream of commissions from defendants – typically 10% of the bail set by a judge. Some firms under investigation issued bail bonds regardless of the seriousness of the crimes or the suspects’ backgrounds, prosecutors said. State officials have no comprehensive records of bail forfeitures. In Los Angeles County, the records are kept by hand on index cards stored in the equivalent of shoeboxes. A Los Angeles Times review of records at the Los Angeles criminal courts building showed that the county had been unable to collect at least $9.1 million in bail forfeitures during the two years ending in August 2003. Of that amount, $5.9 million was attributed to bonds posted by agents working with a single firm, Capital Bonding Corp., a Pennsylvania-based company that has touted itself as the “Wal-Mart of bail bonds.”