A Wake County jury has acquitted a Smithfield bail bondsman accused of taking part in a scheme that Wake school officials contend cost the system $1 million in lost funds.
Ronnie Smith, whose trial ended Monday with not guilty verdicts for the fraud accusations, was one of three bondsmen accused of working with a former clerk in a Wake County courts office to alter records for some 300 cases between 2008 and 2013. The records showed that bondsmen whose clients had failed to show up in court had paid bonds for those defendants when they had not.
State law says that money collected in such cases is routed to the public school system, and Wake County officials estimated they were due more than $1 million because of the altered records.
The case came to light after Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County district attorney, noted irregularities in some cases when she was the county clerk of court. Freeman fired Kevin Ballentine, a former clerk, who was described as a key witness for the prosecution in the Smith case.
The State Bureau of Investigation did the inquiry three years ago that resulted in the criminal charges.
At the trial, which put Freeman in the unusual position of testifying as a witness in a criminal case, Smith’s defense attorney contended that it was the others accused in the case who benefited from the scheme and that Smith had helped bring to light problems with the records.
Ballentine described an orchestrated scheme in which he received cash from bondsmen – sometimes in increments of $1,000, sometimes $500 – to change the records so they reflected that money due to the courts and the schools had been paid.
Ballentine, who testified that he developed the scheme to supplement what he considered low pay, has worked with investigators in cases that led to convictions of two other bondsmen and a former clerk.
Smith runs his own company in Smithfield.