Serving Missouri with timely information about issues of the bail bond industry.

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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hearing Held: Block Bail Bonds and Moran

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed another article today concerning a hearing held yesterday regarding the of the actions of Block Bail Bonds and pretrial commissioner Mary Catherine Moran. Block’s company was banned Friday from doing business in St. Louis Circuit Court, pending an investigation into unexplained changes in judges' orders. Judge Garvey said his order banning Block is subject to approval from Dowd, the presiding judge. Judge David Dowd has created a committee to examine actions by Moran and bondsmen. The committee will meet on February 3rd.

Moran and her staff make bail recommendations to judges but are not empowered to set bail in felony cases or make changes. The P-D article says that in at least 8 cases, Moran’s office made the changes to bonds without a judge’s approval. In all eight cases, Block’s company wrote the bonds.Moran attended the hearing, as Garvey had requested, but did not testify and there is no report that Moran has been suspended during the investigation.

Friday's hearing was for the sentencing of Jimmy Gibson, convicted Oct. 23 in Garvey's court of possession of a controlled substance. Garvey had set a bond of $50,000 in cash or property after Gibson was convicted and before his sentencing. The judge insisted Friday that he was "very clear" about the conditions. A week later, a Block agent, Daryl Spector, posted a secured bond and Gibson was released from jail after his fiancée paid a $5,000 fee. No record of the bond modification was put into Gibson's court file until the Post-Dispatch began asking questions earlier this year. On Jan. 8, Moran produced a copy of an order authorizing the change, and said Garvey had authorized it by phone. He has since insisted that he did not. Gibson's fiancée, Latrice Ladell testified Friday that a Block agent named Hazel Hammers Varnon told her she could pay 10 percent to get him out. Ladell said she was "surprised," because she knew the bond was set for $50,000 in cash. She said Spector met her at the courthouse, accepted the $5,000 and wrote the bond. Varnon was not called to testify.Spector told the court he first heard about the case when his general agent, Barry Block, asked him to write the bond and told him the amount to charge. Garvey asked, "You had no idea about the background of this bond?" Spector replied, "No, sir." He said the papers were prepared in Moran's office. Court documents show that she signed it."There is something going on here," Garvey said. "It is clear from this woman's testimony that the company knew the bond was going to be changed (before it was). This court wants to find out what happened in this case."

Block's lawyer, Nick Zotos, protested that the move and said that if the bond did not meet requirements, it was the fault of pre-trial release commissioner Mary Catherine Moran's office for accepting it. Zotos vowed to appeal.

STL-PD Article here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

STL Company Suspended During Investigation

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that Block Bail Bonds has been prohibited from posting bonds in St. Louis by order of Judge Garvey. The action occurred after the Post-Dispatch reported that eight bonds had been changed to surety without a judge’s authorization. In all the cases, the Block company posted the bonds.

After the newspaper began investigating, the court also began looking into the matter and a complaint was filed with the FBI. Judges looking for answers have focused attention on Pretrial Release Commissioner Mary Catherine Moran, who is to advise them on what bond to set for criminal defendants. She does not have authority to set or change felony case bonds on her own. In the eight cases identified by the Post-Dispatch, judges initially ordered the accused to put up $1,000 to $50,000 in cash for release. A short time later, each was changed to shift terms from cash to secured, or a court official accepted a different bond amount from what was ordered, with no explanation. In every instance, there was no record in the public court files indicating who asked for the change.

In at least one of the cases investigated by the P-D, defendant Jimmy Gibson’s bond was changed from $50,000 cash to $50,000 surety. Judge Garvey said he never authorized the bond change although his name is on a bond reduction order. Mary Catherine Moran, who had signed Garvey's name to the document, told reporters that if he didn't authorize her to do it, then it must have been some other judge but she doesn't remember who.

Read the whole story here:
STL-PD:Blocks Suspended from Writing Bail
STL-PD:Cases Under Investigation