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Friday, March 30, 2007

Columbia Missourian: Felons Writing Bail

The Columbia Missourian published an article today about felons in the bail bond business. Profiled in the article is Thomas McGee, who was granted a bail bond license while reportedly still on parole for attempted first-degree arson in 2001. According to the Missourian, McGee soaked a hallway with gasoline in a house where three women lay bedridden. Casenet indicates that McGee was sentenced to seven years in prison, but served 120 days shock time and was released from parole three years later. He was granted a bail bond license in 2004. According to research conducted by the Missourian, there are seven other bondsmen with Missouri felony convictions.

Evidently, the DIFP had been investigating McGee’s convictions. I presume that this occurred after former director Dale Finke ordered a review of licenses after the arrest of Lee Jackson in late 2005. The Missourian reports that after a one year investigation, DIFP investigator Robert Volkmer closed McGee’s file earlier this month. “There have not been any consumer complaints against Mr. McGee since his original license was issued,” Volkmer’s report states. “I believe this file should be closed with no further action.” According to DIFP spokesman Emily Kampeter, both Volkmer and the handling of McGee’s file are under investigation by the department. Volkmer was not authorized to close McGee’s file, and the department director, Doug Ommen, strongly disagrees with his findings, she said. “It is not our directive of this administration to allow those individuals to be licensed with this department,” she said. “There were some lapses there.”

Another department lapse was profiled here just a few months ago. After the 15-year Lee Clause took effect in 2005, Donald Christian was licensed under the authority of Jack Allison. Christian had pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and was granted suspended execution of sentence and given five years probation. In 2005, Christian was granted a license. In November, Christian was arrested again on new drug charges. The DIFP said that they did not know how Christian was granted a license in 2005. They filed a complaint with the Administrative Hearing Commission in order to discipline his license.

The article goes on to say that the department has taken action by asking Senator Kevin Engler to sponsor Senate Bill 153 which, in the Department’s opinion, will correct some of the problems. Here are the claims about SB153 from the article, my comments in blue:

▪Eliminate inconsistencies by treating people who have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty the same. Under current law, a person who has pleaded guilty to a felony and received a suspended sentence can still receive a bail bond license. I disagree and have spoken to the Department about this issue. The current statute regarding the licensing of felons says: “Final adjudication or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere within the past fifteen years in a criminal prosecution under any state or federal law for a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude whether or not a sentence is imposed…” (Emphasis added) I asked the department if the current statute gave them the authority to discipline a license holder if the licensee received a suspended sentence. Here is the DIFP’s reply: “The new language did fix the SIS problem, so the department does have the authority to seek discipline; however, the discipline sought is discretionary.” This means that the Department has the discretion to seek discipline or not. And as shown in the article, the department has not consistently applied its authority when seeking discipline on license holders. SB153 will continue to give the department discretion concerning when or if it will discipline felons.

▪Require bail bond agents to report felony convictions to the department. SB153 does NOT require agents to report convictions to the department, it requires they report arrests to the department and does not instruct the department on how to proceed with this information.
▪Make ineligible for a license a person who has been convicted of a felony within the past 15 years. This law is already in place.
▪Allow the Department of Insurance to look at people with convictions older than 15 years on a case-by-case basis. Under current law, a person can be licensed if the felony is more than 15 years old — no questions asked. In the bail bond community this is ironically known as the “Lee Clause,” named for Virgil Lee Jackson, a man who received a license despite multiple felony convictions in the 1980s. Lee is awaiting trial on charges that accuse him of attempting to have a competing bail bond agent murdered in 2005. In my opinion, this has been the problem all along. The bail association and Lee Jackson passed the Lee Clause in 2004, hoping that he would be granted a general bail bond license. Unfortunately for Lee, he had another run-in with the law before he could accomplish his dream. I have consistently testified before the Missouri General Assembly asking them to remove the Lee Clause and be clear and concise that we did not need felons in the business….period. The bail association wants to keep felons, so it continues to draft language that will continue to allow felons in the business and refuses to repeal the Lee Clause.

The article goes on to quote Jack Allison, who according to the article employs two convicted felons and three men awaiting trial for felonies. Allison is the legislative chair of the bail bond association and has testified before the Missouri General Assembly for several years to allow felons to write bail. Allison said he employs felons because the Department of Insurance does not provide employers details about the criminal background checks conducted by state police. Ultimately, though, Allison said he would still hire a person who had committed what he considers a “minor” felony more than 15 years ago. That’s because, he said, people change. The article does not discuss felons who work for Allison with more recent convictions. Donald Christian, who works for Allison, pleaded guilty in 1998 to possession of a controlled substance. He was also charged with a new drug charge last November. Gregory Tetro pleaded guilty in US District Court last Wednesday to a federal drug charge. Both continue to work under Allison’s authority. Allison is quoted in the article regarding felons, “It will take a little to get rid of them, but we’ll continue to try.” My suggestion to Allison and other general agents who contract with felons, just quit hiring them. Allison said he would like to see the term “dangerous” better defined by law. The term “dangerous felon” as used in SB153 is defined by law. Here is the definition: "Dangerous felony means the felonies of arson in the first degree, assault in the first degree, attempted forcible rape if physical injury results, attempted forcible sodomy if physical injury results, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, kidnaping, murder in the second degree, assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, domestic assault in the first degree, elder abuse in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, statutory rape in the first degree when the victim is a child less than twelve years of age at the time of the commission of the act giving rise to the offense, statutory sodomy in the first degree when the victim is a child less than twelve years of age at the time of the commission of the act giving rise to the offense, and, abuse of a child pursuant to subdivision (2) of subsection 3 of section 568.060, RSMo, and child kidnapping;” -RSMO 556.061. As I have said before to members of the Missouri General Assembly, examples of crimes not included as dangerous felonies would be manufacturing meth, child pornography, possession or sales of drugs, embezzlement, burlgary, felon in possession of a firearm, and sodomizing a 13 year-old. The bail association passed the Lee Clause and the industry has been paying for it ever since. Even now that there is consistent press coverage about the issue, they continue to want to license felons.

SB153 does not fix the problem. The language was written by and supported by the some of the very people that passed the 2004 legislation and continue to support felons in the bail bond industry. As long as the regulators and legislators listen to the very people who are creating these problems, we will continue to have this kind of press coverage about our industry.

1 comment:

  1. I have a felony for a robbery I commited when I was 17yrs old, and am now 29 with no other record since the one incident. It has been 12 years since that terrible incident for me, and I believe people can change. Since then I got my GED, went to college for chemisty and then Bible college, and have worked as a youth minister (preached when senior minister was on leave), worked as a supervior at a homeless mission, been awarded by the Gov. of Indianapolis twice, and also the Optimist Club of Indy had a special dinner in my honor for my volunteer work at a local hospital and homeless shelters. I have had trouble getting jobs because companies like this have set a rule that because I did something very stupid as a teen (at 17 in Missouri they charge you as an adult) I must suffer for it for the rest of my life, even though I have fully paid my restitution to the victims and society at large- and on top of that I have shown I am a changed person in that since the incident about 12 years ago I have not commited any crimes (maybe got a speeding ticket once). I just think it is bs to think that people can't change, and restricting someone who is capable of doing a job well for life because of their past is wrong.


Although Missouri Bondsman encourages debate on topics of interest to the bail industry, please be aware that comments are moderated. Please observe the posting rules. No comments will be printed that contain spam, profanity, or libelous comments. Please post comments in a civil, professional manner.