Accused thieves, drug dealers, gun-toting criminals, even suspected killers are being freed from New Jersey lockups before trial by a new breed of bail bondsmen, willing to take big risks on individuals who've proved over and over that they're high risks, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. Some are being set free on $75-a-week payment plans, an offer too good to pass up for defendants who otherwise would be spending the months leading up to trial locked away in a spartan county jail. “$0 down payment,” reads a sign in the window of Aaron Bail Bonds, beckoning inmates housed across the street at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack. A company next door promises “Instant O% approval,” and another, ASAP Bail Bonds, offers the “Best Deals on the Strip.”
It's shorthand for the shadow deals criminal defendants negotiate with bail bondsmen — a practice that, though not illegal, has attracted the attention of the state Commission of Investigation. The commission has opened a “broad-based” probe into the bail bond industry that will include a closer look at these deals. Before bail bond companies started offering payment plans, a defendant would usually pay the full premium. Under the new deals being offered, some defendants are paying as little as 3 percent to a bail bondsman and putting the rest on a payment plan. When a defendant fails to make the payments, friends and family who have co-signed for the bond end up on the hook for the premium, a review of court records shows.