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The Region

Bail Bond Chief Takes Plea Deal

Prosecutors in Riverside County force the owner of agencies who paid jail inmates to solicit business for him to sell his firm, leave the field.

June 26, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The president of a major California bail bond agency agreed Friday to forfeit his license and sell his corporation as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors who charged that he paid inmates to illegally solicit business from others behind bars.

Robert Spencer Douglass of Rancho Santa Fe is barred from applying for a bail bond license or engaging in any bail bond-related activities throughout the United States.

He pleaded guilty to 123 counts of illegal solicitation of bail bond business, charges that were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors as part of the plea agreement.

Douglass, 58, also was ordered by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Russell F. Schooling to pay $425,000 in civil penalties and investigative costs, and was sentenced to a 93-day jail term, to be served under house arrest, along with three years' probation.

"Our original goal was to stop his illegal conduct in our community," said Karen Gorham of the Riverside County district attorney's office. "He's given up his bail license and sold his corporation. So we believe we have accomplished our goal."

Douglass refused to comment. When asked by Schooling in court if it were true that he violated the laws, Douglass answered, "Yes, your honor."

"Mr. Douglass is happy to have his case disposed, and he's ready to move on," John Gordon, Douglass' attorney, said after the hearing.

Prosecutors say that from late 1999 to March 2001, employees at one of Douglass' three Riverside County bail bond agencies, Ray's Bail Bonds, paid more than 50 county jail inmates more than $20,000 for referrals, acts that violated state regulations for bail bond businesses and state insurance codes.

Douglass was arrested in May 2001 after Riverside County authorities searched his offices in Riverside and Temecula and his multimillion-dollar home in northern San Diego County.

Prosecutors said an audit by investigators found evidence linking Douglass and his company's employees to payments to inmates' jailhouse bank accounts.

The crimes established a dangerous motive for profit among inmates, prosecutors said, creating an adversarial environment and a public safety issue as jailhouse fights broke out over the bail solicitation payments.

The Riverside County conviction and sale of Douglass' Pacific Bond Corp. to a San Diego County corporation known as Two Jinn Inc. was met with reserved praise by a pair of leaders in the Southern California bail bond industry.

They expressed skepticism that the plea bargain will completely stop Douglass from continuing unfair business practices.

"His tentacles are long-reaching in this industry, and he's done very well outmanning the honest bail agents," said Vera Robles-DeWitt, president of the Los Angeles Bail Agents Assn., who attended the Friday court hearing.

John Garcia, a Riverside bail bond agency owner who formerly served as president of the Inland Empire Bail Agents Assn. and is suing Douglass alleging unfair business practices, said Douglass emerged as the area's most powerful bail bond agent through illegal and unscrupulous means.

"It was like we were all waiting in line to buy movie tickets with our own money, but we saw [Douglass] going in the back door without paying," Garcia said.

Gorham and fellow prosecutor Stephanie Weissman defended the plea bargain as a punishment harsher than prison time, saying the agreement will effectively bar Douglass from being associated with the bail bond industry.

"Hopefully, this will also deter others from engaging in similar activities," Gorham said. "They should know if they break the law in this county, they'll be put out of business quickly."

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