Wake County school system seeks to recover $1 million in bail money

khui@newsobserver.com ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

— The Wake County school system filed court documents Tuesday to recover more than $1 million in bail money that it charges should have been turned over to the courts and ultimately the district.

The filings stem from a criminal investigation that has resulted in the indictments of two former county clerks and two bail agents who are charged with altering records so that the bail agents didn’t have to pay for clients who failed to appear for court dates.

The school district filed 316 motions, one for each case in which it says bail money was not turned over. Rod Malone, an attorney for the school system, said the motions detail the loss of $1,012,600 in bond money, with more motions to come in other cases where bond money should have been turned over.

Motions were filed in Wake County Superior Court and District Court against 13 insurance companies and four professional bondsmen. In addition to recovering the $1 million, school officials are seeking 8 percent interest and monetary sanctions against the bail agents and the insurance companies.

“The insurance companies are the sureties,” Malone said. “They’re ultimately responsible for the bond money.”

In February, a Wake County grand jury issued indictments against James L. Perkins and Kenneth Vernon Golder II, the bond agents, and Kelvin Lawrence Ballentine and Latoya Tanisha Barnes, the former clerks. All four were charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer and altering court records.

The indictments followed a six-month inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators contend that Perkins and Golder worked with Ballentine and Barnes to alter records in numerous bond forfeiture proceedings that would save the bail agents hundreds of thousands of dollars during five years.

People who are arrested or jailed often have to post a bail bond to get out of jail before their trial. Bail can range from hundreds to thousands to occasionally millions of dollars. With many people unable to post the bail themselves, bondsmen will bail a defendant out of jail for a nonrefundable fee. If the accused does not show up for court and has no legitimate reason for missing a hearing or trial, the bondsman forfeits the full bail amount.

Under North Carolina law, the money accrued from bond forfeitures are to go to the public schools in the court’s jurisdiction.

When forfeitures occur, bondsmen seeking to set aside the forfeiture have to notify the school system and the district attorney to give them a chance to object.

School officials contend that in 316 cases from 2008 to 2013, Ballentine entered information in the clerk’s computer system indicating that a motion to set aside had been filed without notices being served to the school system or the district attorney. When neither party objected, the motions were electronically granted by the clerk’s computer system.

“The scheme defrauded the school system of money that would otherwise have been available for its students,” the school district said in a written statement.

The motions seek to invalidate all those orders setting aside the bond forfeitures.

Malone said the school district is still reviewing the cases handled by Barnes, which involved significantly less bond money, he said.

The SBI inquiry was prompted by a tip that Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County clerk of court, received in the summer of 2013.

She looked into the allegations and noticed irregularities between computer court records and paper documents. She flagged them to then-Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who sent a letter to the SBI in August asking for a probe.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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