March 28th April 3rd in the year Two Thousand and Twenty and Twenty One & Two
Thursday, March 31st, 2022 Bail agents dealt drugs, committed fraud and drove drunk. They’ve kept their licenses
Assault with a deadly weapon. Burglary and grand theft. Receiving stolen property. Perjury, domestic violence, and driving under the influence. Cocaine possession, drug and weapon sales, and attempting to elude police.
These are just a few of the felonies that bail agents in California have been convicted of in the past decade. And in dozens of cases, they've been allowed to keep working, signing bail contracts with people accused of crimes and retaining the power to arrest those clients at a moment's notice.
The California Department of Insurance, the state agency responsible for overseeing California's bail industry, has granted or maintained bail agent licenses for 34 felons since 2010, according to investigation records provided by the department to The Desert Sun.
There are currently just under 2,000 bail agents working in the state. Records going back to 2010 show the department investigated 76 agents or applicants due to felony convictions, either committed before applying for bail licenses or while licensed. While 54% of them had their licenses revoked or denied, the rest — 34 people — were permitted to work as bail agents in spite of their criminal history, and 19 felons have active licenses today.
One agent, Jose Navarro, has two felony convictions for drug sales on his record and was granted a license in 2013. The department is currently moving to revoke his license for illegally hiring another felon, Fabian Hector Herrera, to arrest a man in Palm Springs in April 2021.
Herrera, who was barred from working as a bounty hunter because of his felony record, fatally shot David Spann during the confrontation and has since been charged with his murder. Also charged was his mother, who purchased him the firearm and accompanied him as backup on the night of the killing.
But while Herrera was not permitted to make the arrest due to his criminal history, his boss, Navarro, also a felon, would have been — because he has a bail agent license.
Navarro and Melissa Lippert, the other bail agent who ordered Spann's arrest, however, could be charged with a misdemeanor for illegally hiring Herrera under California's bail laws. No charges have been filed to date. Although the fatal shooting happened almost a year ago, Lippert and Navarro currently have active licenses. Lippert's attorney says his client has done nothing wrong. Navarro has not responded to requests for comment from The Desert Sun. The hearing on their case is set for June.
The fatal shooting has put a spotlight on who is being licensed to do bail work and how the Department of Insurance has conducted its oversight responsibilities.
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Michael Soller said the data used to report this story shows the department has not shied away from using its power to revoke licenses.
"We stand with our fellow law enforcement agencies in protecting the public from actions by bail agents that threaten people's safety and holding them accountable when they violate California law and the terms of their license," Soller said.
State Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, is challenging Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara for the job in the coming election. He said that Spann's shooting shows California needs increased standards and training in the bail industry.
"There needs to be a regulation that puts an end to these warrantless searches and seizures, that implement background checks, that require licensing for bounty hunters, and it needs to be under a single regulation," Levine said. "Bail agents are acting, in effect, as adjunct law enforcement without having the standards of a police officer. We need to raise the level of professionalism in the industry and we’ll hopefully see far better outcomes in communities."
Reporting convictions, an honor system
Bail agents work directly with courts and jails and have substantial power over the freedom of people charged with crimes but not yet convicted. They oversee thousands of unlicensed bounty hunters who can be dispatched to arrest people who have allegedly violated the terms of their bail agreements, which are private contracts. It's big business: Bail agents collect about $520 million for approximately 175,000 bail bonds each year in California, data provided by the department up to 2020 shows.
Yet bail agents are not subject to oversight from the California Department of Justice or any other agency working in the criminal justice system. Instead, the Department of Insurance oversees the bail industry.
Much like the license needed to be an insurance broker, the department’s bail agent licensing process is meant to ensure that people are meeting legal requirements and conducting business ethically.
The Desert Sun reviewed 283 administrative investigations the department has conducted since 2010 — these are also known as "special enforcement actions" — and questioned the department about its disciplinary process.
Soller said the department investigates complaints about bail workers made by the public, bail agents, police and insurance companies. If there's evidence of a crime, it is referred to a county district attorney for prosecution. If there's evidence of an administrative violation of bail laws, it's reviewed by the department's legal division.
Of the bail agents and agencies investigated over the last decade, 271 were disciplined: 139 had their licenses restricted, 10 had them temporarily suspended, and 102 had them revoked. But the revocations aren't always permanent: The Desert Sun found that 14 revoked licenses have been reinstated and are currently active.
Like any civilian, bail agents can be charged with crimes if they break the law. And they are, on a regular basis. The department has opened 196 investigations in connection with criminal convictions over the last decade, 120 for misdemeanors and 76 for felonies.
About 70 convictions, both felony and misdemeanor, were for driving under the influence, some resulting in collisions causing serious bodily injury. About 40 convictions were for illegal schemes to solicit bail business among the incarcerated or their relatives. There were 23 for domestic violence incidents. And 35 of the felony convictions were for drug possession and sales, with some related to conspiracies to distribute drugs in jails or prisons.
Of the 196 bail agents with felony or misdemeanor criminal records, about 120 were convicted of more than one crime — about 40 of whom have active licenses.
Bail agents are required, Soller said, to report criminal charges or convictions to the department within 30 days, but it's something of an honor system. The Department of Insurance largely relies on other authorities or the agents themselves to report the cases. Consequently, the number of bail agents working despite criminal charges or convictions is very likely an undercount.
"We do not receive notification from courts of charges being filed against bail agents," Soller said. "If another law enforcement agency files charges against a bail agent, we would not know about it unless they request our assistance."
Working in the justice system with convictions
Bail agents have certain powers to arrest fugitives, much like police officers. But cops can't have felony convictions and keep their jobs.
Bail agent David Antonio Richardson, of Antioch, was separately convicted of receiving stolen property, cocaine possession and selling PCP. Jimmy Rosales, of Los Angeles, was convicted of a domestic violence offense and of failure to appear in court. Javier Maldonado, of Sacramento, has two convictions for selling cocaine and one for attempting to elude police. Frances Carrillo, of Los Angeles, was convicted five times for possessing a controlled substance.
They are among 19 currently licensed bail agents with felony convictions. Most did not return The Desert Sun's request for comment.
Three of those with felony convictions had their licenses revoked but later reapplied and have active licenses in the department's system.
Jorge Luis Munoz, of Whittier had his license revoked in 2013, after being convicted of aiding a criminal. He was again issued a license in 2018. Thomas Esparza, of Los Angeles, had his license revoked after a felony fraud conviction. He was reissued a license in 2018.
Oscar Hernandez, of Bakersfield, was convicted of a felony corporal injury of a cohabitant in Los Angeles County in 2015 and his license was revoked the next year. He was granted a restricted license in 2018. His license was then suspended in 2019 for a DUI conviction. But it was reinstated and is good into 2024, the department reported.
Navarro, the bail agent who illegally hired the bounty hunter who killed the Palm Springs man, was issued a restricted license in 2013 and an unrestricted license in 2019, despite his felony convictions in L.A. County. The convictions were from about a decade before he attempted to become a bail agent.
"Like with all licensees, the Department of Insurance conducts background checks and reviews public records prior to issuing a bail agent license and when renewing bail agent licenses," Soller said. "A criminal record is not an automatic disqualification but is an important factor we use to protect the public."
Bail agents interviewed for this story said that the department does not always do background checks when licenses are renewed.
Some bail agents, like Navarro, committed their felony offenses prior to becoming agents. Trino Richard Savala, of Whittier, had several convictions on his record when he applied for a license in 2009. He had been convicted of tampering with the identification marks on a firearm in 1989, drug possession in 1990, receiving stolen property in 1995 and assault with a deadly weapon in 1998. All were felonies. He was issued a restricted license in 2010.
Savala is the first to admit there are some shady people in the industry. But, he said in an interview, he's no longer one of them. After a stint as a professional boxer, he said, he "got into some trouble."
"I was a validated gang member. I sold drugs," he said. "I was denied a license the first time I tried. I would have denied me too."
He said he believes his community work, as a school counselor and as a drug and alcohol counselor, helped him make his case to be granted a license. Savala said his criminal history has provided him with insight that helps him do bail work.
"I'm an ex-criminal," he said. "I know how they think and I know the streets really well."
Savala isn't alone in saying that a criminal record helps him do his work.
Robert Ryan Elias, of Riverside, was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. He served time in jail for that offense and another for receiving stolen property. He was convicted of driving under the influence and driving without a license several times.
He was granted a bail agent license in 2019, in part, due to a character reference provided by his employer, Lee Michael Schneider of DMCG, a large bail agency that does business under the name Bail Hotline. The company has more than 30 offices, with one in Riverside. Bail Hotline employs seven agents on the "enforcement actions" list.
Schneider told the Department of Insurance that Elias was a reliable employee assisting the company's bail operations, but not negotiating bail bonds as an agent. He was compassionate to clients, Schneider said, and he would be promoted to bail agent if granted a license.
Schneider testified to hiring other bail agents with criminal histories, according to the hearing report: "The company has found that criminal convictions do not necessarily make an employee untrustworthy," he said.
Schneider has also been granted a bail license despite two felony convictions, for burglary and auto theft. He did not return The Desert Sun's request for comment for this story.
'Restricted' licenses granted
One common, and largely unexplained, practice of the Department of Insurance is to revoke a license and yet issue a restricted license to an agent in its place. The Desert Sun found at least 40 agents were provided restricted licenses after revocation, but the department's records are not always clear on this.
Ryan Adam Mullinax, of San Diego, was convicted of driving under the influence and a domestic violence offense. He had his license revoked in 2013 but he was issued a restricted license the following year. David Manuel Matamoros, of Van Nuys, has three convictions for domestic violence incidences and contempt of court. He had his license revoked in 2004, but was issued a restricted license in 2010. The restrictions have since been removed.
In fact, a restricted license does not limit the type of work an agent can do.
Soller, the deputy insurance commissioner, said that a license restriction, rather, expedites the discipline process should the agent engage in more misconduct: "Any violations by the bail agent, who holds a restricted license, could allow the Department to immediately revoke the license — unlike a license without restrictions, which would require a hearing process under California law."
California laws aim to prevent bail agents from soliciting business in ways that exploit people who have just been arrested. Bail agreements can be costly and shackle defendants with debt for years.
Bail agent Kent Joseph Morgan, of Banning, was convicted of a misdemeanor for soliciting bail from arrestees in illegal ways. Larissa Langley, of San Luis Obispo, had her license revoked for a similar scheme. But both now have active licenses, according to department records.
Such schemes — which can involve bail companies essentially paying inmates to refer clients to them — have reached stunning levels of size and complexity around the state.
One scheme in Riverside County resulted in criminal charges being filed against 13 people. Bail agents Terry Tenwick, Humberto Gavilanes and Jane Fillian were convicted in the scheme — yet they still have active licenses.
Two other bail agents convicted in the case, Michael Testi and Robert Spencer Douglass, surrendered their licenses soon after charges were filed in 2004. Douglass was issued a restricted license in 2009. The restrictions were removed in 2015 and it appears he worked in the industry until his license expired last year.
One of the largest such schemes on record happened in 2015 in Santa Clara County. KQED reported that more than 30 bail agency employees were charged for soliciting bail in the county's jails.
The Desert Sun was able to confirm that 11 licenses were revoked in connection with the scheme. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office declined to provide information about the convictions.
But court records show that five charged in the scheme — Christian Barraza-Franco, Maria Guadalupe Mandujano, Carlos Flores, Jacob Sanchez and Arish Leonard Rivers — pleaded to misdemeanor charges and retained their licenses.
In March 2015, Luis Roberto Ramirez had been granted a restricted license, due to a DUI on his record. By August of that year, he was among those charged in the Santa Clara scheme. Despite his involvement in that case he was permitted to keep his restricted license, which remains active.
Rivers described the investigation and criminal case by phone, from his home in the Bay Area. He said there were people involved in the scheme who were breaking laws, but his misdeeds were minor in comparison. He was ultimately accused of practicing bail work without a license in connection to phone calls he had with inmates. He said he did his mandated community service and moved on.
"Ultimately, the cases sent a message to the industry," Rivers said, adding he's still not sure "exactly what law I had broken."
Steven Hidalgo and Refugio Martinez currently have inactive licenses after the department revoked them.
Department investigators found they filed fraudulent paperwork to the DMV in an attempt to falsify a car title. They had confiscated the car from a defendant as bail collateral. Despite the defendant's efforts to contact them, the department found, they attempted to seize the car.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department investigated the matter, and the Insurance Department investigators said that Martinez repeatedly lied to the deputies.
A third agent believed to be involved in the scheme, Harley Esparza, later sued the department. After having some of the accusations against him dismissed, the department ruled that the years on a restricted license were deemed adequate discipline and his license was reinstated last year.
Hidalgo disputed the allegations by phone, saying another agent was using his bond paperwork without his knowledge. He said he's since "thrown in the towel" on the bail industry.
"Bail brings out the ugly in people, the greed," Hidalgo said.
Policing the bail industry
Such incidents have fueled the efforts of activists to reform the bail system in recent years by providing evidence of tactics some bail agents employ to make more money rather than help the incarcerated.
A number of elected officials have tried to legislate away the cash bail system altogether.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in 2018 that would have replaced cash bail with a system of pretrial release that would evaluate people charged with crimes on the risk the person posed to the public and the risk they might not show up to future court dates. The law was challenged by various interest groups and it was put before voters. In 2020, about 56% of Californians voted no on Proposition 25, and the current bail system was maintained.
Senate Bill 262, pending in the state Legislature, would require judges to consider the defendant's ability to pay bail before imposing it, and a return of the bail premium after the individual makes all court appearances if a charge is filed related to the arrest.
Bail industry lobbyists in Sacramento say bad apples undermine the industry's responsibility to provide the incarcerated with a way to pay for release from jail before their case is resolved. But, they say, the bail industry can be fixed.
Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said that the focus of the legislature in recent years has been to eliminate the commercial bail industry.
"For years it was: 'end money bail.' But what does that mean?" Clayton said. "End cash bail, it's evil. That's where we were. Now we're looking at: How do we get balance? How do we get people we all think shouldn't be there, out of jail? And how do we get the people who we all think should be in jail in?"
Former Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones convened a public hearing on the bail industry in 2017 during which lawmakers, prosecutors, bail agents and bounty hunters discussed the industry's challenges.
Jones said during the hearing that while the bail industry only amounts to 2% of the state's insurance market, it accounts for more than 10% of the department's suspected violations.
The department's division chief for investigations, Kim Johnson-Woods, said during the hearing that the department's oversight branch is overwhelmed.
"Unfortunately, we lack the resources to allow for a comprehensive bail enforcement program," Johnson-Woods said. "Unlike workers compensation, automobile, health care, and life and annuity fraud, bail does not have a dedicated funding stream to cover the cost of investigations and to provide for grant funding to DAs to prosecute the cases. The department continues to seek a dedicated funding stream for bail agent investigations and prosecutions. And until we have that we aren't able to adequately police the bail industry."
Jones released a report summarizing his recommendations after the hearing: first, that the bail industry was not working for the state's poor, and second, that the state needed to improve oversight and enforcement of the industry and the laws governing it.
He urged the public and state legislature to dedicate a funding source specifically for policing the bail industry through the insurance department. Jones provided examples of how the state had already implemented such special funds to help with the enforcement of other insurance markets.
He added that California is not "the only state that struggles to regulate the bail industry," noting Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi and Arkansas fund regulation of the industry by levying various assessments on bonds filed or a basic annual fee for each bail agent.
"Funds are not only needed to create an aggressive prevention, investigation, and prosecution program dedicated to eliminating illegal bail practices, but also to increase outreach and educate on bail laws in California," Jones wrote.
The recommendations presented in the report were never acted on. Jones left the department and is currently running for a state senate seat in Northern California.
Wednesday, March 30th, 2022Man charged in suspected drunk driving crash that killed woman, injured her 1-year-old son
Kaylie Eskins was pronounced dead at the scene. Her 1-year-old son John was taken to UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital with 'serious injuries.'
ELYRIA, Ohio — A 22-year-old Elyria man is facing multiple charges, including aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault, after a suspected drunk driving crash caused the death of a woman and injured her infant.
According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, a call of a two-vehicle crash came in at around 1 a.m. near the intersection of West Ridge Road and Dellefield Road in Elyria Township. Upon arrival on scene, troopers found two passenger vehicles off the east side of West Ridge Road.
Troopers say a 2011 Ford Focus operated by 30-year-old Kaylie Eskins of Lorain stopped at the intersection of Dellefield Road and West Ridge Road and then proceeded to make a right turn traveling northbound on West Ridge Road. Eskins' 1-year-old son John was a passenger in the car.
A 2008 Audi S5 operated by 22-year-old Logan Townsley of Elyria with passenger 28-year-old Sullivan Townsley of Amherst was traveling northbound on West Ridge Rd. Townsley struck the rear of Eskins’ vehicle, causing both vehicles to travel off the east side of West Ridge Road.
As a result of the crash, Kaylie Eskins was pronounced dead at the scene. John Eskins was transported by Life Care EMS to Lorain Mercy, then Life Flighted to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland with serious injuries.
Logan Townsley was transported to University Hospitals in Elyria by Life Care EMS with minor injuries. Sullivan Townsley was transported to University Hospitals in Elyria by Life Care EMS with serious injuries. The occupants of both vehicles were utilizing seat belts and child safety seats.
Troopers say Logan Townsley was found to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. He was incarcerated at the Lorain County Jail on charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and reckless operation. Excessive speed and impairment are believed to be a factor in this crash.
On Tuesday, OSHP Sgt. Ray Santiago told 3News that Townsley has also been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault.
The crash remains under investigation.
Tuesday, March 29th, 2022Teen accused of wrong way DUI driving on I-91 ramp in East Windsor
EAST WINDSOR, CT (WFSB) - A teenager from Vernon was arrested on charges of drunk and wrong way driving.
According to state police, 18-year-old Jaiden Henry Mcmanus was charged with operating under the influence, failure to drive in a proper lane, wrong way driving, and operating without a license.
Troopers said they responded to Interstate 91 northbound Thursday just before 4 p.m. for a report of a crash on the exit 45 off ramp in East Windsor.
They said they learned that Mcmanus, who was driving a 2021 Honda Passport, had been driving south in the northbound offramp and struck a vehicle head-on. The vehicle had been stopped at a traffic control signal at the time.
They also said that Mcmanus was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Two passengers were in Mcmanus’s Honda with him.
One of them, along with the driver of the other vehicle, suffered suspected minor injuries.
Mcmanus was taken into custody and charged.
He was eventually released on a $1,000 non-surety bond and given a court date of April 18 in Hartford.
Monday, March 28th, 2022Police officer on paid leave after OVI charge and crashes
WOOSTER – An Orrville police officer is facing charges, accused of driving under the influence and crashing into two parked vehicles.
Douglas Miller, 38, pleaded not guilty after Wayne County prosecutors charged him Monday with one count of operating a vehicle under the influence and two counts of failing to control a motor vehicle, according to court records.
Miller, an Orrville resident, was arrested early Sunday morning by Wooster Police after striking two parked vehicles along East Bowman Street, according to police records.
Miller was going east on Bowman where he left the roadway and hit a parked car, according to police, before continuing through the intersection of Gasche Street and crashing into a parked U-Haul.
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No injuries were reported.
Miller did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
The Orrville Police Department initially placed Miller on unpaid administrative leave. This was changed to paid leave because he was "not yet charged with a felony," said Phil McFarren, human resources manager for Orrville.
"Out of respect to the Wooster Police Department and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, no statement will be made regarding the facts and details of their criminal case," Orrville Police Chief Matt Birkbeck wrote in an email.
"The Orrville Police Department will conduct a separate, thorough administrative investigation into the officer's conduct during this incident."
According to Wayne County courts, Miller's arraignment, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, was canceled in lieu of a pretrial conference. Miller was released on bond while awaiting trial.
Miller joined OPD in 2011 where he received the department's Award of Valor in 2017, according to the police department.