Conn. Accused of Laxity in Bail Bonds Oversight

November 28, 2004

A whistle-blower complaint has accused the Connecticut Department of Insurance of failing to adequately investigate and sanction bondsmen who illegally provide discounted bail bonds.

State auditor Kevin P. Johnston said he has nearly completed his review, The Hartford Courant reported. He will report his findings to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and possibly Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Blumenthal, who backs transferring oversight of the bail industry to the Department of Public Safety, said Friday he may recommend personnel changes, make a criminal referral or pursue a lawsuit depending on what, if any, wrongdoing the auditors report.

“This issue is a critical one to public safety and the criminal justice system,” he said. “And there’s no excuse for ineffective enforcement.”

State law limits a price charged by bondsmen of a defendant. But a rising number of bondsmen are illegally reducing the price to win more business, according to testimony before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Some bondsmen also write bonds and put the offender on a payment plan, which also is illegal.

Cutting the price of bonds concerns lawmakers and judicial officials because it allows dangerous defendants with high bonds to more easily get out of jail. It also may limit a bondsman’s financial ability to hire a bounty hunter if a defendant flees.

The bondsmen who filed the complaint say the Department of Insurance is unwilling to crack down on undercutting as required.

“We want the existing laws enforced,” said Patrick Moynihan, one of the whistle-blowers.

Insurance officials have said they do not have enough money to hire field agents to monitor bondsmen, but will investigate complaints when they are brought.

In the past five years, insurance officials have revoked four licenses. Three were held by bondsmen who issued forged bonds.

Insurance officials should lobby the legislature for more funding or reallocate its resources, Moynihan said. “They need to do something,” he said.

Legislation to transfer oversight of bondsmen was proposed earlier this year. But members of the legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus killed the bill after lobbying by bondsmen.

State Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven and co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill. He said he welcomes the whistle-blower complaint and hopes it will pressure lawmakers and Rell to act on bail reform.

“They’re basically saying the obvious. They’re saying that the emperor has no clothes,” he said. “It’s already been said, but now it’s being said on the record.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribute

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