Monday, April 03, 2017

People v. Financial Casualty & Surety (Cal. Ct. App. - April 3, 2017)

One thing about looking at a business from outside is that you're never sure if your perceptions are based on erroneous information.  At the same time, perhaps one's "outsider" status may permit a perspective that those on the insight might overlook.

So when I read today's opinion from the Court of Appeal, my first thought was:  "Is this all a scam?"

Over the years, I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about bail forfeitures as a result of reading the (numerous) opinions that address the subject.  The basic scoop of which is easy.  When a company posts bail for someone, and the person subsequently doesn't show up in court, the bondsman has a certain period of time (180 days, though it always gets extended) to find the person and bring 'em in, and if they don't, the bail gets forfeited.

That much you could even get from just watching television.

The slight complexity is when -- as is often the case -- the person flees the jurisdiction.  In that case, you simply show up with ("catch") the person before local law enforcement and, at that point, get back the bail you posted, since at that point, you've done your job, and it's up to the state to decide whether to try to extradite the person.

Fair enough.  And, in the United States, that totally works.

But what if the person flees to Mexico?  Or some other foreign country.

Same deal.  Show up with the person before a local law enforcement officer and, boom, you get your money back.

Which is precisely what (allegedly) happens in this case, which involves an $100,000 bond.

Here's the part that made my spidey-sense tingle:

Yeah, the bail bondsman brought a guy before a law enforcement official in Mexico.  But since the guy was a Mexican national, and wasn't accused of any crimes in Mexico, that's all that could happen. Apparently, under Mexican law, you can't do anything else.  You can't take him into custody. You can't question him.  You can't fingerprint him.  You can't take a photo.  Nothing.

So here's the scam.

Just take anyone.  Grab a friend.  Grab a guy off the street.  Give the guy $10 or whatever.  Walk him to a police officer in Mexico and say to the officer:  "Here's my guy.  He's wanted in the U.S."  Even if it's totally not him.  Even if it doesn't look anything like him.  Even if it's just a totally random guy. The officer can't do anything.  The guy goes free.  And you get your $100,000 back in the States by saying that you "caught" the guy in Mexico.

That works, right?

Oh, yeah.  And it works even if you don't bribe a random Mexican police officer to say anything on your behalf.  And if you do, well, then, that's just double-sweet.  You're protected times two.

That seems like a way easy way to make $100,000 that you're at serious risk of losing, no?

It stretches credulity to think that I'm the only one who's ever thought of this.

And that fact that the alleged bail-jumper here was caught "[walking down] the main street of the tourist center in Tijuana, Mexico" -- a neat little coincidence, no? -- definitely raises some issues.

So whatchathink?  Scam?  Neat little way to make a cool hundred grand?

I wonder if that's in the back of the Court of Appeal's mind.  When it holds that, in fact, it's okay for the prosecuting agency (the D.A.) to require that the surety provide a photo or fingerprints of the subject in order to get their money back.  Notwithstanding the fact that this requirement is definitely nowhere in the relevant statute.

Stops the scam.  Or at least makes it harder.  Gotta find someone who at least marginally looks like the person for whom you're looking.

Though the Court of Appeal's holding in turn makes you wonder if this doesn't permit agencies to run a scam the other way.  They know full well that, in Mexico, the police aren't permitted to take a photo or get fingerprints.  So by requiring these things as a condition of getting your bail money back, the agency can make sure that your (substantial) bail gets forfeited.  Even if, in fact, the surety caught the right guy and validly presented him to local officers.

Lots of money at stake.  Lots of incentives to try to keep it.  On both sides.