A Grand Jury report has suggested that the practices of certain San Bernardino bail bonds companies are questionable at best.
Their primary concerns relate to excessive inmate visits and the construction of fraudulent websites. These websites are believed to have been put up in hopes of deceiving would-be clients.
This practice is more commonly referred to as website spoofing. These sites, which have a stark resemblance to those put up by legitimate law enforcement agencies, collect data and personal contact information. This allowsunscrupulous bondsmen to solicit those individuals. It is against the law for bail bonds agents to solicit clients. Those convicted of that crime face fines, penalties, being stripped of their bail license and /or jail time.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department confirmed things had gotten so bad that they needed to issue a cease and desist order against a local agency.
That having been said, the Grand Jury has reportedly issued monitoring guidelines for individuals and businesses working within the county’s commercial bail industry. This includes monitoring of websites for spoofing activities. They are also recommending that inmate booking numbers not be posted on the county’s website for three days.
It is also being suggested that jail visitation slips require licensed bail bonds agents provide identification and contact numbers. The Grand Jury found that a bondsman had the ability to conduct up to seven unsupervised visits per day. They would arrive at the jail, be given a key to a private attorney room and would be allowed to meet with detainees in private.
The Sheriff’s Department has indicated that the practice of bail bonds personnel rampantly visiting inmates is not nearly as out of hand as the Grand Jury has alleged. All licensed agents must obtain pre-approval in order to meet with detained individuals. They are required to have a bail contract in hand and must present proper identification upon arrival. One jail sergeant said that all visits are monitored by a sworn deputy.
At the same time, this is not to say there are not problems within the industry. Approximately a dozen San Bernardino bondsmen were indicted in 2003 for engaging in unlawful business practices. This practice is not localized in nature. It happens all across the state.
Prosecutors say it is difficult to prosecute unscrupulous agents because the state insurance code “lacks teeth”. Changing statewide regulation has been difficult. On one side you have a group of lawful bail bonds companies who want to enact change. On the other, you have a second group who wants to see things stay exactly as they are.
The matter is ongoing.