Wake schools in court battle to recoup money from bail bondsmen scheme

The Wake County school system’s efforts to recover nearly a million dollars in lost revenue from a bail bondsmen scheme has landed in court.

Insurance companies that had contracts with the bail bondsmen filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court against the school system and Wake County clerk of courts, arguing that the companies cannot be held responsible for a scheme they were unaware of until after the fact.

The lawsuit is linked to a criminal investigation and convictions that stemmed from an investigation that began in 2013.

Three bondsmen were accused of working with two former clerks 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 Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman noted irregularities in some cases when she was the county clerk of court. The State Bureau of Investigation did the inquiry three years ago that resulted in the criminal charges.

During a trial, a Wake County clerk implicated in the case 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.

Since then, the Wake County school system has recouped approximately $123,000 of the nearly $1 million that court and school officials estimate was withheld.

Bondsmen contract with insurance companies to show the courts they will be able to pay smaller bail amounts in full. Many bail insurance companies provide additional benefits, such as a nationwide network of agents to work with.

The companies that sued the Wake school board and county clerk of courts argue that neither the education board nor clerk’s office, to their knowledge, had exhausted all means to retrieve the money owed to the schools from the bondmen who were found guilty of the scheme.

They also argue that they should not be barred from doing further bail bond insurance business in North Carolina while their lawsuit works its way through the courts.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1