Two New Orleans bail bond companies working with two other businesses charged clients hidden and illegal fees – even sending armed bounty hunters to kidnap clients and extort money from their friends and family, according to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The federal lawsuit describes how Blair’s Bail Bonds, New Orleans Bail Bonds, Bankers Insurance Company, and Alternative to Incarceration, a company that provided ankle monitoring equipment, worked together to issue bail bonds that pushed clients deep into debt with hidden and illegal fees.
The complaint, filed late last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, outlines how the operation violated numerous laws, including the Truth in Lending Act and federal and state racketeering laws, based on kidnapping and extortion. It also accuses the companies of false imprisonment.
“These companies used the criminal justice system to squeeze as much money as possible from families desperate to get their loved ones out of jail but too poor to pay the excessive bond on their own,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Unfortunately, this is bound to happen when part of our justice system is put in the hands of a for-profit industry. By setting bail beyond what is affordable, courts are enabling the bail bond industry to take advantage of people accused of crimes and their families.”
The lawsuit describes how Ronald Egana, along with his mother and a close family friend who wanted to get him out of jail, were required to pay a variety of nonrefundable and hidden fees. This included daily fees for an ankle monitor that was required not by the court, but the bail company.
Such fees and practices resulted in Egana, his mother, and the family friend paying more than $6,000 over the past year – far beyond the $3,275 bail bond fee the company said it would charge.
When Egana couldn’t make payments on his bail bond fee, a bounty hunter arrested him at work. He was taken to Blair’s Bail Bonds and told he needed to find someone to pay $800 if he didn’t want to go to jail. Egana’s mother emptied her savings account to pay the money. After arriving at the office, she was told she had to pay an additional $1,500.
On another occasion, a bounty hunter grabbed Egana on his way to court in Orleans Parish. He refused to listen to Egana’s pleas to allow him to attend court, telling him that he would soon have a warrant for his arrest. He dragged Egana across the street, handcuffed him inside of the Blair’s Bail Bonds office and held him against his will for hours until his family brought money.
The bounty hunter told Egana: “We will see how much money we will get today!”
Even after Egana, his mother and a family friend, paid $6,000 in fees – almost twice what the company originally said it would charge – a Blair’s bounty hunter took Egana to jail because the company claimed that he did not pay what he owed. Egana was forced to spend days in jail while friends and family tried to secure another bond.
The lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction to stop these practices. It is also seeking class action status, which would allow a ruling to apply to others in similar situations.