RALEIGH — A Wake County grand jury on Tuesday issued indictments against two former Wake County court clerks and two bail bondsmen after a state investigation showed that nearly $1 million in bail money had not been turned over to the courts.
Charged are James L. Perkins and Kenneth Vernon Golder II, the bail bondsmen, and Kelvin Lawrence Ballentine and Latoya Tanisha Barnes, the former clerks.
The clerks are accused of altering computer records pertaining to numerous bond forfeiture proceedings in pending cases. The changes meant that bondsmen who owed money did not have to pay.
Efforts to reach the accused were unsuccessful Tuesday.
The indictments offer a cursory glimpse of what a six-month State Bureau of Investigation probe revealed.
Investigators contend that Perkins and Golder worked with Ballentine and Barnes to alter records that would save the bondsmen hundreds of thousands of dollars over five years.
When people are arrested or jailed, they 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 non-refundable 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.
In the criminal cases brought Tuesday, Wake County school officials have estimated a loss of almost $1 million. Rod Malone, an attorney for the Wake County school district, said last week that he plans to pursue civil action to help the schools recoup at least $900,000.
The SBI investigation 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 with Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who then sent a letter to the SBI in August asking for a probe.
The SBI inquiry exposed irregularities in at least 300 cases. Wake court officials said other criminal charges could follow.
‘Working very diligently’
Freeman, in a phone interview Tuesday, said the scheme did not result in arrest warrants not being issued for the people who skipped court hearings. In half of the cases, the issues have been resolved. In the other half, orders of arrest are outstanding for anyone who failed to appear in court.
“I take the trust the public places in our office very seriously, and we are working very diligently to fix, and have fixed, any problems,” Freeman said Tuesday.
The indictments allege that Barnes, 41, a clerk with the county courts for almost five years, had intentionally altered court records from Dec. 19, 2011 to May 8, 2013, to reflect circumstances that either excused the bondsmen from forfeiting the full bail amount or inaccurately reflected that the money had been paid.
Barnes, of 208 Wexford Drive in Clayton, is charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer and altering court records.
Ballentine, 36 and a member of the county clerk’s office for nearly 15 years, faces the same charges. His address is listed as 216 New River Parkway, Knightdale.
Perkins, listed as owner of A Plus Perkins Bail Bonding in Knightdale, is accused of obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer, altering court records and a misdemeanor bail bond violation.
Golder, of 735 Obsidian Way, Durham, runs Golder Bail Bonds in Raleigh. He is accused of obtaining property by false pretenses, accessing a government computer, altering court records and misdemeanor unlicensed bail bonding.
The N.C. Department of Insurance, the agency tasked with regulating the bail bonds industry, shows no records of licensure for Golder and lists several regulatory actions against Perkins.
Perkins voluntarily surrendered a limited representative’s license in 2007 and had his professional bail bondsman license withdrawn in 2010.
The causes of the status changes were not immediately available Tuesday.
Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1