Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Catch and Released
Every day criminals are caught and then released pending trial. Some pay for bonds, others get out free, and now a plan to expand Broward's free pre trial release program is causing controversy. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Bondsman: "Surety, good morning, surety agent."
Bail bondsmen are also known as surety agents.
Bondsman: "Good morning, surety agent."
And, on this morning, they were at the Hollywood home of a man free on bond for burglary.
He had failed to appear for a court hearing.
Bondsman: "Someone please come to the front door, hello?"
It got tense when several minutes passed without a response. The tasers came out, but then the door was opened and 23-year-old Vincent Gelindon was taken into custody in front of his mother Lisa.
Carmel Cafiero: "Why didn't your son show up for court?"
Lisa Gelindon: "His ride didn't show up."
Vincent Gelindon: "I showed up."
Lisa Gelindon: "He went late."
Surety Agent: "OK, come on."
Bail bondsman Mark Durkee says that missed court date was almost a month ago.
Mark Durkee: "He didn't turn himself in. He's been running. He's been dodging us for several weeks now between this address and another address."
And there was a financial incentive to find Gelindon.
Bondsmen make their money when inmates pay them to post their bail. That gets them out of jail. In return, the bondsman assures the court the defendant will show up for trial.
If the client doesn't appear, the bondsman has to pay the court.
Wayne Spath: "We're accountable."
But inmates are also released though a taxpayer funded program called pre-trial release. It is free to the accused, and, if a person disappears, they become another fugitive for law enforcement to deal with.
Wayne Spath: "It started out because there were certain people in jail who couldn't afford bail."
Wayne Spath says, like many of his fellow bail bondsmen, he is concerned about plans to expand the free program.
Bondsmen say the program is releasing people who can and should pay.
Catherine Crespo: "And why are we spending the taxpayer's money to get someone out of jail for free when there is a service and an industry that is responsible for these people and doesn't cost the tax payer any money?"
Elliott Cohen: "It's a good question."
Elliott Cohen is a spokesman for the Broward Sheriff's Office, which runs the pre-trial release program. He says PTR does something bondsmen can't: track and monitor the behavior of people waiting for their trials.
Elliot Cohen: "The bondsmen are doing this for profit, we are doing this for public safety."
But bail bondsmen like Darrly Allen says suspects who face serious charges as well as repeat offenders are getting out of jail free.
Elliot Cohen: "I think it's outrageous."
BSO says the decisions to release on PTR are made by judges. At the root of all this: too many people going to jail.
There's not enough room for them all, and Broward is facing the prospect of having to spend $60 million on a new jail.
It's money that won't have to be spent if more inmates are released.
Elliot Cohen: "The choice is out on pre-trial for $2 or $3 or $4 a day in taxpayers' money or sit in jail for $92 a day."
But with a failure rate of 25 percent PTR admits it only goes looking for the most serious offenders.
Elliot Cohen: "We think the people would much prefer we prioritize and go after the baddest of the bad, then go after everyone."
Mark Durkee: "You got anything you want to get rid of before you go to jail?"
But the bondsmen say they go after everyone. The County Commission is expected to make a decision on expanding PTR next month.
Carmel Cafiero: "This is a big issue for Broward County taxpayers. Already 25 cents of ever tax dollar is used to pay for jails."
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