By Norm Pattis
Crime & Federalism
Hypothetical: A bail bondsman offers police money for the capture of a person who has failed to appear in court and has been ordered rearrested. Unless the person is taken into custody, the bondsman will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars when the bond is called. The officer catches the absconder and is paid $15,000. Did the bondsman break federal law?
According to the United States Attorney's Office in Connecticut, the answer is probably "yes." In New Haven on Tuesday federal agents arrested Robert, Paul and Philip Jacobs of Jacobs Bail Bonds, charging them with a violation of 18 USC Section 666. Section a(2) reads of that statute reads as follows:
"[Whoever]... corruptly gives, offers, or agrees to give anything of value to any person, with intent to influence or reward an agent of an organization or of a State, local or Indian tribal government, or any agency thereof, in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization, government, or agency involving anything of value of $5,000 or more;..." violates the law. The offense becomes federal if the state agency receives more than $10,000 in federal funds in a given year.
There is little question that the officers receiving these cash payments were engaged in unsavory and likely illegal conduct. But what corrupt purpose did the bondsmen have? They were trying to assure the appearance of absconders in a court of law. They did not bribe the officers to frustrate the law's purpose of bringing people to justice. Indeed, quite the contrary. They rewarded officers for bringing men to justice.
Admittedly, the bondsmen did not do so not for public purposes. They offered cash payments as a reward and, in effect, to provide officers with incentives to catch absconders. The bondsmen stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if the fugitives were not caught. But I am hard pressed to see a federal offense in this.
I know these bondsmen personally. Indeed, I have used them for clients for more than a dozen years. While I frown on the cash payments to cops, I am nonetheless shocked and saddened to see this prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney's office proceeded by way [of] criminal complaint. The case was not submitted to a grand jury. I suspect the reason for that was political. What grand jury would indict on these facts?
This is a ridiculous prosecution. It would be a joy to take this case to trial.