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Bail Bond Firm Pleads Not Guilty to Paying Inmates

Company president, six employees are charged with compensating more than 50 Riverside County prisoners to solicit business.

June 19, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The president of one of California's largest bail bond companies and six of his employees pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that they paid jail inmates to solicit business from others in custody.

Riverside County prosecutors allege that Ray's Bail Bonds, owned by Robert Spencer Douglass, 57, of Rancho Santa Fe, paid more than 50 county jail inmates to help the firm increase business.

From late 1999 to March 2001, prosecutors allege, Ray's Bail Bonds paid inmates more than $20,000 for referrals, acts that violated the state code of regulations and state insurance codes.

"This was a public safety issue," said Paul Dickerson, one of the deputy district attorneys who will prosecute the case. "When they're paying inmates to refer others in jail to a certain bail bondsman, that becomes a profit motive in jail. No one in jail is supposed to be paid for it."

Douglass was arrested in May 2001 after Riverside County authorities searched his offices in Riverside, Temecula and northern San Diego County. Dickerson said an audit by investigators allegedly found evidence linking Douglass and his company's employees to the payments into inmates' jail accounts.

He was released from jail after posting a $5-million bond.

San Diego attorney Charles L. Goldberg, who represents Douglass, called the case "a monumental waste of county resources over allegations that inmates were given some gratuity by a rogue manager in this company."

"We absolutely deny senior management had anything to do with this," Goldberg said.

Dickerson said that Terry Tenwick, who formerly supervised Ray's Bail Bonds' 10th Street office in Riverside and was promoted to regional manager of the Inland Empire, devised the plan to pay the inmates. Tenwick agreed to be a prosecution witness and to testify that Douglass and the other six defendants either had knowledge of or engaged in the alleged crimes. In exchange for testimony, Tenwick will receive a jail term of 120 days and plead guilty to 10 felonies, Dickerson said.

The case is being watched closely by bail bondsmen, said John Garcia, president of the 25-agency Inland Empire Bail Agents Assn. in Riverside.

"There's a stigma attached to bail bondsmen -- that we're not professional, that we're not to be trusted, that we don't shave -- and this case is why," Garcia said.

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