Courts fail to forfeit bonds for fleeing fugitives

An 8 month News 13 investigation

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The list reads like a who’s who of the criminal underworld. The Department of Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Greg Fouratt calls what’s happened, “A dangerous situation.” An eight-month News 13 investigation uncovers a public safety debacle that allows fugitive felons to beat the system, many for years and some of decades.

State Representative Bill Rehm calls the system breakdown, “A joke and the criminal knows there’s no follow through.”

Beating the System

As an example, consider the case of accused felon Hosam Abed. In 2011, while awaiting trial on a string of violent felonies including attempted murder, Abed skipped out on his $25,000 bail bond and disappeared. After he fled, the judge in his case was authorized to order the $25,000 in bail money be forfeited to the court. That’s how bail bonds work: Skip court and you lose your bail. However, instead of forfeiting Abed’s bond, the judge simply looked the other way. The bail bond was never forfeited and Hossam Abed is still on the lam.

Interactive Timeline
See the interactive timeline showing 20 examples of fugitives whose bonds were not forfeited by the court – Interactive Timeline »

The Abed case is not an isolated one. A News 13 review of hundreds of court documents shows district court judges rarely forfeit bonds of fleeing fugitives. In fact, our investigation finds, in the past four years, Albuquerque district court judges have only forfeited the bonds of nine fugitives. Just nine.

The state legislature gives the courts authority to forfeit bail bonds in cases where defendants fail to appear for court. However, under the statute, bail bond forfeiture is not mandatory. Legislators allowed some discretion to the court by using the word “may” when it comes to forfeiting bonds.

After being indicted on drug trafficking charges. Ulise Leyva skipped court in 2005 and disappeared. The judge in Leyva’s case disregarded his $17,500 bail bond and let it slide. Leyva remains a fugitive today and his bail bond was never revoked.

Derrick Davis was facing a series of violent felonies, including false imprisonment and battery, when he fled in 2008. Rather than forfeit Davis’ $2,500 bond, the judge simply let the matter drop. Davis is still listed as a fugitive from justice.

In 1992 James Andrews was indicted for criminal sexual contact with a 12-year-old. After he posted a $5,000 bail bond to get out of jail, the accused felon disappeared. The judge did not forfeit the $5,000 bond. Andrews has been a fugitive for 23 years.

When accused drug trafficker Rogelio Dias skipped out on his $20,000 bond, the judge let the fugitive defendant off the hook by failing to forfeit his bail bond.

‘It’s Not About The Money’

DPS Secretary Fouratt says this issue is not about the money. “A person charged with a felony who has bonded out and blown off the court, taken off, skipped town, whatever, represents a danger to the community that is substantially greater than the average person with whom a law enforcement officer is interacting.”

A bail bond is like an insurance policy. To get out of jail, you post a bond and promise to show up for court. If you skip town before trial however, then you’ll be facing an arrest warrant and the loss of all the bail money. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Secretary Fouratt says, “If that is not being done then the bail bond itself, that contract is, from a public safety perspective an empty promise because it provides false comfort, false assurance to the court and frankly to the public.”

Typically, defendants hire bail-bonding companies to get out of jail pending court. The bail bond agent then must ensure the defendant shows up for trial. However, if the accused criminal disappears in the dead of night, the bonding agent is on the hook for the full amount of the bond unless they can hunt the defendant down and bring them back.

Dangerous, Risky Business

According to Gerald Madrid, President of the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico, “We try everything that is legal to make contact with that person, especially if they are hiding from us, find them, arrest them and bring them back in. Especially on the larger bonds because that money I had pledged to the court is at risk now. I’m at risk of losing that money whatever that amount might be.”

In cases where a defendant has jumped bail, most bonding companies will hire bounty hunters to find them.

“It is a dangerous risky business. Getting them out of jail is the easy part. The tracking them, getting them into court, especially when they know they are facing time in prison or time in the county jail, its tough,” Madrid says.

“We have a person charged with a felony who has looked a judge in the eye and promised to show up, convince the bail bond company that he’s a good security risk and has then bonded out of jail and despite all his promises has taken off. The forfeiture provision incentivizes the bail bond company to go look for him because there is no entity nor any person more incentivized to locate and apprehend this now fugitive than the person who has promised $5,000, or $20,000 or $100,000 if the person doesn’t show up,” Secretary Fouratt says.

State Representative Bill Rehm, who is also a retired Sheriff’s Deputy, is critical of Judges who do not forfeit bonds of fugitives. “The individual has guaranteed his appearance based on the bond and then fails to appear and the courts take no action for that failure,” Rehm says.

Judge Nan Nash is Chief Judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque. When asked why Judges don’t forfeit bonds, Judge Nash replied, “The Judges do not find that forfeiting bonds makes it more likely that the defendant will return or be brought back to face the charges that they are accused of. We want them to return to court to answer to the charges that are pending against them.”

Judge Nash said she does not believe that forfeiting bail bonds accomplishes the goal of getting a defendant back in court. However, the Judge adds, the 2nd district court judges do plan to take a look at this issue.

“You can rest well assured that when you do a story about the court, it occasions some discussion among the Judges. We do think, ok are we doing it the right way,” Judge Nash says.

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