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Sunday, January 27, 2008

DIFP Issues Advisory on Fictitious Names

On January 18th, the Consumer Affairs Division of the DIFP issued an advisory regarding the use of fictitious names and the filing of monthly affidavits.

The advisory states that all general agents must submit a voided copy of the power of attorney used in executing bail bonds by February 28th. The advisory states that paperwork submitted to the courts, law enforcement or the DIFP shall not contain a DBA, marketing name, or fictitious name, and should only include the name of the licensee. (emphasis by DIFP) The advisory states that there have been a number of issues regarding the use of fictitious names on power of attorney forms used to execute bail bonds. The DIFP advises that any licensing or renewal application containing a fictitious name will be returned for correction, thus “hampering the already time-consuming application process.”

The department advises that each general agent must file an affidavit between the first and tenth of each month informing the DIFP whether or not there are any outstanding judgments against the licensee.

The DIFP attached bulletin 06-03, which was issued in 2006, concerning the use of fictitious names.

Post on fictitious names 10/11/2006

Friday, January 25, 2008

High Bond In Boone County Causes Dispute

Yesterday, The Columbia Daily Tribune published a report regarding a $750,000 bond posted by an agent of Harold McBee of Chillicothe. The Tribune reports that Kristopher Prince, 18, was released from the Boone County Jail after posting the bond with McBee. Prince is charged with second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action in a shooting incident in which another teenager died.

The report said that Prince spent more than five months in the county jail before his grandparents put together enough money to secure a $750,000 bond from McBee. The Princes agreed to pay $3,000 down, another $3,000 seven days after Prince’s release, and $1,500 a month until they paid a total of $75,000, or 10 percent of the bond. The family’s collateral included a 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass, a 1986 Chevrolet pickup and a home on Sackets Road in Boone County.

The day after Prince made bond the prosecutor alleged that he had jailhouse recordings indicating that Prince may attack witnesses to the shooting. Prince’s bond was increased to $1,000,000 cash only and a capias warrant was issued. Prince was re-arrested the same day.

The Tribune reported that despite Kristopher Prince’s arrest and his higher bond, McBee wants the Prince family to comply with the original agreement. "We performed a service," he said. "We earned that fee by getting him out of jail."

Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Knight said that after learning of Prince’s release from jail, he called the circuit clerk’s office and learned McBee’s agency didn’t have enough collateral to insure the $750,000 bond, with the family assets listed as $657,000, at most.

Since Prince’s release and re-arrest, Prince’s grandparents, Lawrence and Edith Prince, have filed a consumer complaint with the DIFP. The report said that the DIFP is trying to determine whether the $750,000 bond is in effect. Emily Kampeter of the DIFP said that state officials are investigating the assets of McBee Bail Bonds.

The 13th Judicial Circuit has since issued an order regarding the posting of bonds. "The Circuit Clerk should be contacted before a surety bond in excess of $250,000 is accepted. The Court may require additional collateral on any bond when it appears from the information available to the Court that the surety is without sufficient assets to cover the bond requested and all outstanding bonds for which the surety is liable."

See Post on Credit Bonding 4/20/2006

Website: Rewards4fugitives

I received an email from Ben Mares, webmaster of Ben would like to share his website with bondsmen around the nation. He tells me that tips from the site helped capture this fugitive who was extradited from Mexico.

The site is free for listing agents and all rewards and phone tips are handled directly by the listing agent.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bait and Switch

Subverting the Public’s Right to be Heard

You’ve heard of the fraudulent merchandising practice called bait-and-switch. A retailer lures in customers by advertising a product at a low price and then tells customers that the advertised product is not available but you can buy a substitute at a higher price. Bait-and-switch is also a political term used to describe how bills can be passed while avoiding required public discussion. A bill is proposed (the bait) with the ultimate objective of substantially changing the wording at a later time. The original bill is scheduled for a hearing to meet legal requirements for public notice and discussion. A substitute bill is later submitted (the switch), thus bypassing the objective of public discussion on the real language proposed. While the bait-and-switch trick is technically legal, it is ethically and morally reprehensible, because the political objective is to get legislation or rules passed without anticipated negative community review.

That is exactly what happened at the public hearing I attended last Tuesday on SB869 in the Capitol in Jefferson City. The original bill was noticed for public hearing. I prepared written and oral testimony based upon the version of the bill which was advertised in the public hearing notice. When Senator Wes Shoemyer was called upon to introduce his bill, he announced that he was submitting a substitute bill. The substitute was distributed only to the committee members at the hearing. Since the public had no access to the substitute, they could not be prepared to testify about the provisions under consideration by the committee.

Senator Shoemyer then introduced me to testify in support of his substitute. I was stunned to be called as a witness on a bill I had never had the opportunity to review. I explained to the committee that I felt placed in an awkward position by being called to testify in favor of a bill I had never seen. I further explained that I was not given an opportunity to review the sub and I wasn’t prepared to testify concerning language I had not reviewed.

Blind-sided by the bait-and-switch, I told the committee I had come to testify concerning the original SB869, which only proposed the removal of five words-"within the past fifteen years"- from the bail statutes. Those five little words became known as the Lee Clause after SB1122 passed in 2004. The Lee Clause became law after bondsman Virgil Lee Jackson lobbied for a change in the statutes so he could obtain his general bail bond license. Jackson was an 8-time convicted felon and was unable to get a general bail license. Jackson and others hired lobbyist Steve Carroll and successfully added the 15-year clause allowing convicted felons to be licensed as long as the conviction was over 15 years old. The provision was hidden deep in a huge bill entitled "Dentistry" and passed in final days of session. The 15-year look-back was dubbed the “Lee Clause” since it was specifically crafted to allow Jackson to obtain his general license.

I explained to the committee how the courts have routinely held that the State of Missouri is placing its “seal of approval” upon an individual when it grants a state-issued professional license. The public can then have faith and confidence in the licensee because he/she has obtained this approval. I detailed Jackson’s criminal past and how he was granted a bail bond license in 1996, even though he had served approximately 20 years in state and federal prisons for eight separate felonies he committed over his lifetime. Shortly after the Lee Clause became law in 2005, Jackson was arrested for conspiring to murder his competitor, former Missouri State Representative Jerry Cox. Jackson is now serving 10 more years in a federal prison. I also testified that licensing felons like Jackson damages the integrity of the bail industry, it is bad public policy for the state, and undermines the citizens’ trust in the credibility of all state-issued professional licenses.

The bail bond association lobbyist, Steve Carroll, spoke in favor of the substitute that others were denied the opportunity to review.

Senator Frank Barnitz had signed on as co-sponsor of the original bill just after the session began. I spoke with Senator Barnitz after the hearing and he informed me of his displeasure that he was not notified of the substitute. Barnitz said that co-sponsors expect the courtesy of reviewing the proposed substitute language if his/her name is on the bill. He said that he is opposed to the changes proposed by the bail association and Senator Shoemyer, and only supported the bill as it was originally filed.

The Elections Committee has not met since the hearing to determine whether it will pass the bill, amend the bill, or even take up the bill at all. The committee chair, Senator Delbert Scott, has extended an invitation to submit written testimony on the substitute prior to any decision of the committee.

Although pulling a bait-and-switch is a legal and accepted political maneuver, it certainly subverts the public’s right to be heard in a “public hearing.”

Previous Posts on SB869
Hearing Scheduled
Barnitz Co-Sponsors SB869
Shoemyer Pre-Files SB869

Sunday, January 20, 2008

OK-Fugitive Escapes During Transport

The Gallup Independent reports that two fugitive recovery agents were transporting Richard Youtsey back to Oklahoma after he failed to appear on charges of false personation, felony larceny and DWI. Youtsey was captured in California and was in the process of being transported back to Greer County, OK. The agents stopped at a casino to allow Youtsey a restroom break, according to the report. The agents removed the prisoner’s handcuffs and Youtsey managed to escape. An Oklahoma multi-agency manhunt began including use of tracking dogs and helicopters. Area schools were on partial lockdown. The search was called off without results late Friday.

Youtsey’s bond was set at $200,000 after he failed to appear last month in Greer County. Youtsey is described as between 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 11 inches and weighs between 140 and 160 pounds. He has hazel eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a white shirt, gray hooded sweat top, a white Route 66 baseball cap and may be wearing tennis shoes. State police report that Youstey has tattoos on his hands and arms.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

SB869 to be Heard by Senate Committee

SB869 will have a hearing this coming Tuesday, January 22, 2008, at 2:30 PM. The bill will be heard by the Senate Financial, Governmental Organizations, and Elections Committee.

The bill seeks to repeal the Lee Clause, which has allowed convicted felons whose convictions are over 15 years old, to be licensed. The language in the bill will prohibit felons regardless of when the conviction occurred.

The bracketed red text in the following statute is proposed to be deleted in SB869:

RSMO 374.755. 1. The department may cause a complaint to be filed with the administrative hearing commission as provided by chapter 621, RSMo, against any holder of any license required by sections 374.695 to 374.775 or any person who has failed to renew or has surrendered his or her license for any one or any combination of the following causes:
(2) 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, prior to issuance of license date;

The committee members are as follows:

Delbert Scott, 28th, Chair
Jason Crowell, 27th, Vice-Chair
Kevin Engler, 3rd
Brad Lager, 12th
John Loudon, 7th
Maida Coleman, 5th
Jolie Justus, 10th
Harry Kennedy, 1st
Jeff Smith, 4th

If you have an opinion to share, I encourage you to attend the hearing or contact your senator. If you don't know your senator, use this handy tool.

Previous Posts
Barnitz Co-sponsors SB869
Shoemyer Files SB869-

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bondsman Arrested on Stealing Charges

KOAM-TV reports that bondsman Jackie Covey and her boyfriend, Aaron Redburn, were arrested in Jasper County on felony stealing charges. They were arrested after Carthage police served search warrants at their home and at Covey's business. KOAM reports that Covey and Redburn were allegedly involved in multiple thefts at area Wal-Mart stores. According to the report, authorities say Covey is seen on surveillance video returning a stolen home theatre system and receiving a gift card in exchange.

Covey works under the authority of Mabel Jane Kuehn and also Joseph Vanhorn. Covey has been licensed since 2003. Casenet indicates that the DIFP requested the court file pertaining to this case on January 9th.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

DOC Offers Online Offender Search Tool

The Missouri Department of Corrections is offering a web-based search of all active offenders including those on probation or parole. You can search by name or offender ID number. The site includes sentencing information, photos if available, and probation officer’s name and location.

DIFP Enters Into Consent Agreement on License Refusal

The DIFP has entered into a consent agreement with general agent Stephan Burke of Doniphan. On December 31st, the DIFP refused to renew Burke’s license, alleging that Burke had failed to file his monthly affidavit for five years. The DIFP also alleged that Burke had failed to supply it with requested information concerning his renewal.

On January 11th, the department entered into a consent agreement with Burke ordering that the DIFP will renew Burke’s license on the condition that he obey all laws including the statute requiring monthly affidavits. Burke waives any right to judicial review or a hearing before the Administrative Hearing Commission.

Previous Post on Burke Case

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sun Leader Publishes New Information in Fugitive Recovery Case

The Lake Sun Leader has published new information and a correction in the case between bondsman David Vinson and his client Ronald Brown. The newspaper reports that Brown, 25, was facing multiple charges passing bad checks and driving with a suspended license. On October 12, he was scheduled to appear in court. Versailles Assistant Police Chief James Burkhart said Brown had sent a 'significant other' into court for him to make an excuse why he couldn't be there while Brown was outside in his vehicle circling town. When Vinson found him, they took off in a car chase through Versailles, Burkhart said. Vinson managed to corner Brown on a dead-end street. There was yelling, Burkhart said, which prompted nearby residents to call police. As officers were arriving, Brown escaped by driving through a resident's yard. That's when Vinson allegedly fired his gun at Brown's vehicle. Vinson was charged with five felony counts including assault in the first degree and unlawful use of a weapon. He was taken into custody by the Versailles Police Department and held on a $50,000 cash-only bond. His bond was later reduced to $25,000, 10 percent cash or surety bond and posted by one of Vinson's agents.

Last week, it was reported that the fugitive’s name was Randall Brown and he remains at large. A correction was published yesterday in which the Sun Leader reported that the fugitive’s name is Ronald E. Brown and he has been in custody since last November. My previous post has been amended to reflect the correction.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Senator Barnitz Co-Sponsors SB869

Senator Frank Barnitz-D, Lake Spring, has signed on as a co-sponsor of Senator Shoemyer’s bail bond bill, SB869. The legislative session began last week and the bill received its first reading in the Missouri Senate.

The bill seeks to remove the clause which allows felons to become licensed if the conviction is over 15 years old.

The statute currently reads:

374.755. 1. The department may cause a complaint to be filed with the administrative hearing commission as provided by chapter 621, RSMo, against any holder of any license required by sections 374.695 to 374.775 or any person who has failed to renew or has surrendered his or her license for any one or any combination of the following causes:
2. 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, prior to issuance of license date;

Senators Shoemyer and Barnitz seek to remove the words “with the past fifteen years” from the above statute, making the law prohibit felons regardless of when the conviction occurred.

My previous post on SB869

FL-Bondsman Criticized for Takedown in Public Building

According to several press reports from Florida, a senator, a tax collector, and other officials are criticizing the actions of Florida bondsman David Lowman. The controversy began after Lowman took client John Darlington into custody in the local tax collector’s office. Lowman had posted a $15,000 bond for Darlington last October for grand theft. He was released from jail after his mother put up 10 percent of his $15,000 bail to Lowman. Lowman, who owns Help Bail Bonds of Clearwater, said Darlington had checked in every week like he was supposed to since his release. But recently Nell Darlington told Lowman that her son wasn't keeping his bargain with her. He had left town in her truck, and she wanted it back. She also wanted his bail revoked. Nell Darlington decided to lure her son back by promising to transfer title of the truck to him, Lowman said. They agreed to meet at the tax office.

Lowman left his weapon in his car as he knew it was illegal to carry a weapon into a government building. Lowman was accompanied by his twin brother, Donald Lowman. The Lowmans approached Darlington in the waiting area of the tax office and asked him to stand up to be hand-cuffed. Darlington began resisting arrest and pulled a handgun from his waistband. According to reports, there were about 25 people in the tax office at the time of the incident. The Lowmans and another person were able to subdue Darlington until police arrived. No one was hurt except Darlington, who received minor abrasions to the face. Darlington faces new charges including felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon.

After the incident, it was reported that Donald Lowman does not hold a bail bond license and is a convicted felon. According to reports, Florida law prohibits fugitive recovery work without a bail bond license. Additionally, Florida statutes also say bonding agency owners may not "employ, contract with, or use the services" of anyone convicted of a felony.

Tax Collector Mike Olsen has spoken with the press several times about the incident. He has criticized Lowman for attempting the apprehension in a busy public building. He has asked for an investigation into the matter as well as changes in the law to prohibit this from happening again. State Sen. Mike Fasano on Friday crafted a letter to Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, asking her to look into what happened and prevent a repeat. "Since the regulation of bail bondsmen falls under the jurisdiction of your agency, I am requesting that an investigation be done into this matter so that we can take the necessary steps, whether by rule or legislation, to make certain this never happens again," Fasano wrote. "I'm sure you agree that a citizen should be able to feel safe in a public office whether it be the office of the tax collector, a legislative office or even the DMV." Local authorities are also investigating the matter.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bondsman Has Preliminary Hearing in Fugitive Incident

Yesterday, the Lake Sun Leader reported that that bondsman David Vinson of Camdenton has been bound over to circuit court in the incident which occurred in Morgan County when Vinson attempted to apprehend fugitive Ronald Brown. Vinson was charged with five felonies in mid-October while trying to apprehend Brown. According to the report, Vinson had tracked Brown to a home in Versailles. Brown managed to escape, but only after Vinson allegedly shot out the back window of the SUV Brown was trying to escape in. Vinson was charged with assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, discharging/shooting a firearm at or from a motor vehicle, unlawful use of a weapon and tampering with a motor vehicle in the first degree. He was taken into custody by the Versailles Police Department and held on a $50,000 cash-only bond. His bond was later reduced $25,000, 10 percent cash or surety and posted bond through one of his agents.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bondsman to be Sentenced in Distribution Case

Bondsman Gregory Tetro, of Columbia, is scheduled to be sentenced in US District Court in Jefferson City on January 25th. Tetro entered a plea of guilty in March 2007, to knowingly and intentionally attempting to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. The plea agreement states that Gregory Tetro purchased five pounds of marijuana from a DEA agent. Between June 16 and 25, 2004, the DEA recorded a series of calls with Tetro, in which they discussed a special agent providing Tetro with marijuana to sell. Tetro estimated that he could sell approximately 30 pounds in two weeks, and agreed to start with a purchase of five pounds. They met on June 25, 2004, at the Red Roof Inn in Columbia, Missouri, and Tetro paid $2,750 for the five pounds of marijuana. He told the agent that he used to sell about 50-60 pounds of marijuana every two weeks, and was trying to re-establish his clientele. Tetro was indicted in December 2005.

Tetro was licensed in November 2004 under the authority of Jack Allison. He later worked under the authority of Tina Bozarth. Tetro’s license expired in November 2007 and his renewal application has not been approved by the department. Tetro has no pending disciplinary actions with the DIFP at this time.

MSHP Post Arrest Reports Online

Here is a handy tool. The Missouri State Highway Patrol posts arrest reports online for five days. You can search by name, county, troop, or date. The reports contain only arrests made by the MSHP and do not include arrests made by other law enforcement agencies.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

DIFP Refuses to Renew General Agent's License

The DIFP has refused to renew the general agent’s license for Stephan Burke of Doniphan. The DIFP’s order states that Burke’s license has been refused because for the last five years, he has failed to file a monthly affadavit as required by RSMO 374.760. Additionally, the department alleges that Burke failed to supply additional information on his license renewal application as requested by the DIFP’s special investigator. The department’s order does not specify what information it had requested. Burke has 30 days to request a hearing before the Administrative Hearing Commission.

Burke has been a licensed general agent since 2001 and previously held an agent’s license beginning in 1997.

Addressing Consumer Complaints

Professional bail bond companies offer excellent customer service

A few months ago, I published a guest editorial from the DIFP, Consumer Affairs Division. The editorial stated that consumer complaints received by the Department usually involve “an agent’s handling of an initial bail transaction, misappropriation of bail money or collateral, failure to return bail money or collateral in a timely manner after proceedings have concluded and unlicensed bail bond or fugitive recovery activity. The most common complaint: lack of customer service.”

I received the following email from a person yesterday. The name and some details of the transaction have been withheld.

I am having a difficult time getting a refund from a Missouri bail bond agent and need to know what action I can take or who to contact. I was put in jail and released my belongings to a bondsman so I could post the full bail using my credit card for $600 bail, plus $120 bond fee. The bondsman said all I would need to do to get the refund is to notify him/her after my court date and it could take up to 90 days to get the $600 credited back to my card. I went to court last summer and have been in contact several times, usually getting the run-around like the boss isn't here right now, or on vacation...etc. The last time I did get a straight answer and was told the collateral would be released in 3-4 days. That was before Christmas and I am losing my patience. What can I do at this point?

I responded to the inquiry, informing the person that if a concern with a bail bond agent goes unresolved, consumer complaints should be directed to the DIFP.

If you need to get in contact with the DIFP, the Consumer Insurance Hotline is 1-800-726-7390. Anyone can file a complaint online here or download a paper complaint here.

There are always two sides to every story, but the best way to avoid disgruntled clients is to be responsive to customer inquiries.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

13th Circuit Issues Order on Posting Bonds

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit has recently issued an administrative order regarding the posting of surety bonds. The order requires that:

A) All persons who act as surety must meet the requirements of Missouri Supreme Court Rule 33.17.
B) All persons who act as surety for compensation must also:
1) Meet the requirements of Missouri Supreme Court Rule 33.18.
2) Be licensed as a general agent or be licensed as a bail bond agent working under the authority of a licensed general agent. A current copy of the license should be kept on file w/ the Circuit Clerk.
3) File a General Affidavit of Qualification and a General Affidavit-Questionnaire on the forms provided by the Circuit Clerk. The forms used by the court are the Missouri Supreme Court forms from the links above.
4) File with each bond a Special Affidavit of Qualification on the form provided by the Clerk.
C) The Court shall determine whether an individual meets the qualifications to post a bond on a case by case basis, based on information provided by the individual desiring to act as surety, and any other information which may be available to the Court. The Circuit Clerk should be contacted before a surety bond in excess of $250,000 is accepted.
D) The Court may require additional collateral on any bond when it appears from the information available to the Court that the surety is without sufficient assets to cover the bond requested and all outstanding bonds for which the surety is liable.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

DIFP Orders General Agent to Cease Writing Bail

The DIFP has issued a cease and desist order prohibiting general agent Regina Muwwakkil and all others doing business under her authority from engaging in the bail bond business. The order states the Muwwakkil’s certificate of deposit was forwarded to Jackson County Circuit Court last September. After the DIFP was notified the CD had been attached, the department gave Muwwakkil several weeks to replace it. When the CD was not replaced, the DIFP issued the cease and desist order.

Muwwakkil, of Kansas City, has been licensed as a general agent since September 2006, and was previously licensed as an agent in 2001. She currently has seven agents writing under her authority.

Muwwakkil may be required to pay the costs associated with the department’s investigation when a hearing is held on February 5th.