Metropolis: Wednesday, November 21, 2002
Bonded — But Not Out

A local bailbondsman charged $60,000 for the freedom he couldn’t deliver.


When you’ve had more fun than the law allows, leave it to the Beavers. — Motto on the business card for Charles T. Beavers Bail Bonds.

Charles Beavers’ business cards make his bail bond company sound like a wholesome enterprise that just helps out hard-luck types who may have gotten a bit too heavy-footed on the highway or over-indulged at the office Christmas party.

But the words that a judge, a top jailer, a cop turned lawyer, and former clients have been throwing around lately make Billy Beavers — Charles’ son and one of his bonding agents — sound nothing like June and Ward’s freckle-faced boy.

Following a six-hour hearing this month, the Tarrant County Bail Bond Board yanked Billy Beavers’ license for three months and ordered the family business shuttered for 30 days for violations that amount to taking $60,000 from an illegal immigrant he knew he couldn’t help, trying to hide the cash transactions from the IRS, and then attempting to bribe an attorney to keep the whole mess quiet.

Asked if he had reported the Aug. 1 cash transactions to the IRS, Beavers said he did report them — only two days earlier, “on advice of my attorney.”

The charges against Beavers were raised in complaints filed by a former client, her attorneys, and an even more formidable accuser, Criminal District Court Judge Sharen Wilson.

Despite the sanctions, however, Beavers gets to keep the $60,000. That fact alone has led several local lawyers and even some members of the board to suggest that the punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist from a board not known for its rigorous actions against local bondsmen who break the rules. Worse, some attorneys and the judge suspect the Beavers case is just one example of a wider pattern of exploitation of illegal immigrants by local bondsmen.

After an Aug. 21 hearing on the matter, Judge Wilson was so concerned about the possibility of such abuses that she filed a complaint with the bail bond board, not only asking it to investigate the business practices of the Beavers but sending “specific instructions ... to look into the entire Tarrant County bonding society [to determine if] they are making bonds for defendants with INS holds and pocketing all the money when they know the defendant is never going to get out.”

Such abuses can occur when illegal immigrants are accused of non-immigration crimes in Tarrant County, said Assistant D. A. David Hudson, because “by right, they should be able to get out of jail on bond just like anyone else.” But when such illegals come to the attention of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the agency places a legal “hold” on them. If released from county custody, they are quickly transferred to custody of the INS, which can hold them until their cases are resolved in court or deport them immediately, Hudson said. Very often, he said, especially if the crime is a misdemeanor, “They (INS officers) just go ahead and deport the illegals.” Either way, a bond gets the immigrants nothing.

“This certainly has the potential to be very exploitive of the illegal [immigrant],” the prosecutor said.

“I can’t say it’s illegal per se ... to knowingly make a bond on an illegal alien,” Hudson said, but a bondsman who does it “is dancing around a few illegal acts.” If he bonds one out, knowing full well that the accused is likely to leave the country to avoid trial, “he becomes party to a bail jumper.” And if INS picks up the client before he’s out of the jailhouse door, then the bondsman is subject to charges of fraud and deceit, as in the Beavers’ case.

Illegal immigrants, however, rarely complain of such conduct to the bail bond board. Beavers’ case wound up there, ironically enough, because of a fellow bondsman.

Ronnie Long, a bondsman who enjoys a stellar reputation among the courthouse crowd, was approached in early August by Genie Ocanna, 22, whose friend, Rigoberto Espinoza, was being held in county jail on five felony counts of drug possession with intent to deliver. She paid Long a $30,000 fee to post Espinoza’s $201,000 bond, set by Judge Wilson on Aug. 1.

When Long discovered that his client was an illegal immigrant with an INS hold, he returned the fee to Ocanna. “If a client has an INS hold, I’m not going to post a bond. It’s just not the right thing to do,” he said.

But Ocanna wasn’t persuaded. Turned down by Long, she went to Billy Beavers. When she told him of the INS hold, she said, “He told me not to worry about the INS ... that for $60,000, he could get him out even with an INS hold.” She raised the additional money from the same friends and family who had put up the first $30,000. Beavers took the money; Espinoza, 24, stayed put. When Ocanna asked Beavers for the money back and he refused, she turned to Long for help. He sent her to attorneys Leonard Schilling, a former cop, and Mike Ware.

When Schilling and Ware demanded that Beavers return the money to Ocanna, the bondsman refused and, according to Schilling, offered $20,000 of the bond money if Schilling would take on the defense of Espinoza, even though Espinoza already had a lawyer.

“I told him ‘I don’t do business that way,’” growled Schilling, who saw the offer as an attempt to keep the whole transaction quiet. The proposition put Beavers in an even deeper hole. State law forbids bondsmen from soliciting counsel for a client from whom they have received money for a bond.

When Beavers refused to refund the money to Ocanna, the lawyers petitioned Judge Wilson to hold a fact-finding hearing, since she had jurisdiction over Espinoza’s drug case. Wilson listened to the allegations against the no-show Beavers, including one that he wrote Ocanna six $10,000 sequential receipts for the large transaction in an effort to avoid reporting it to the IRS. She praised Long for refusing to make the bond. Then she referred the case to the bail bond board, specifying that the board should investigate the practice of making bonds for illegal immigrants by Beavers and possibly others, the separate receipts for the $60,000, and “the incredibly horrible practice of offering to pay another attorney $20,000 on the defendant’s (Espinoza’s) behalf when the defendant is represented by ... counsel, which is abhorrent.”

The judge also instructed the board to return the entire $60,000 to Ocanna and recommended that it “take appropriate action, including suspension of [Beavers’] license.”

The board heard the complaints from Wilson, Ocanna, and Ocanna’s lawyers on Nov. 6. By then, Espinoza had pled guilty and been sentenced to 15 years in state prison. The 30-year-old bondsman, under intense questioning from Hudson, admitted nothing.

Still the Beav lost. At the end, the board voted 5-4 to sanction him for violations of local and state bail bond rules: taking money from a client fraudulently, soliciting an attorney for a client, offering to split fees with an attorney, hiding the large transaction in the multiple receipts, and incomplete record-keeping. Chief jailer Bob Knowles, the sheriff’s department’s representative on the board, called Beavers’ practices “despicable” and held out for more severe punishment, including permanent suspension of his license. District Clerk Tom Wilder and bondsman L. G. Cornish argued successfully for the lesser sanctions.

The board otherwise ignored the judge’s recommendations, including that of returning the money to Ocanna. Beavers’ punishment was “little more than a slap on the wrist,” Ware said. “It’s amazing. You can win, but the crook gets to keep the money.” There’s no incentive to stop the practice, he said. “Some people would probably take a few months’ vacation [from their bond businesses] in exchange for $60,000 free and clear.”

Hudson said more deterrence might come from changes in board and sheriff’s office rules adopted as a result of the case. Bonds made for illegal aliens will now be stamped with a warning stating the person is under INS hold and may have to remain in custody. And if a bondsman posts a bond for an illegal immigrant who doesn’t show up for trial, the bondsman will have to pay the county 100 percent of the value of the bond instead of the 25 percent that the county now collects for bond forfeitures. Under old procedures, if Espinoza, for instance, had been deported and had not returned for his drug trial, Beavers would have been out only about $50,000, leaving him almost a $10,000 profit. Today, he’d be liable for the entire $201,000.

“It’s not my job to second-guess the board,” Wilson told Fort Worth Weekly. “But what I do feel great about is the fact that there were some very ethical attorneys [on this case] doing the right thing.”

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