Scott Israel Has Taken $13,700 From Bail Bondsmen; What Do They Want in Return?
Previously: Israel vs. Granteed in fundraising.
Scott Israel's campaign for sheriff this year has taken heavy contributions from some of the least glamorous enforcers in the chain of justice: bail bondsmen from Miami to Jacksonville. Thirty-eight of them, to be exact, shelling out $13,700 for the primary election alone.
Chumming around with bail bondsmen has earned Israel criticism in the past. During the 2008 election, in which he unsuccessfully challenged Al Lamberti, he took $500 from a bail bond agent named Wayne David Collins. Collins, arguably the most powerful bondsman in South Florida, had gotten in trouble with the law in the '80s for throwing around his influence in the Mob town of Providence, Rhode Island. He had his criminal record expunged so he could get a bail bondsman's license. The Miami New Times ran a hell of a story on him back in 2004.
Collins' companies also allegedly gave thousands to the Common Sense Coalition, which supported Israel in 2008 (and which, for you history buffs, took in $160,000 on Israel's behalf from two of Scott Rothstein's partners, while Rothstein continued to pump money to Lamberti).
Israel says Collins isn't supporting him this time around -- though the agency Collins started, Universal Bond, has given the $500 maximum to Israel's primary campaign this season. But it's worth a look into why, exactly, a potential sheriff might be getting so friendly with bail bondsmen in the first place.
When an accused criminal is awaiting trial, he can be released on bail. If he's unable to pay, he can go to a bail bondsman, who will front the money in exchange for 10 percent of the bail amount, usually. It's then the bondsman's (and his insurer's) money on the line if the suspect doesn't show up to trial.
Bondsmen's livelihood depends on a steady flow of arrested people -- and it's the sheriff who rounds them up. It's also the sheriff who runs the county jail, which is the alternative to being released on bond. Across the country, bondsmen have been caught colluding with judges, prosecutors, and yes, sheriffs to arrange an optimal flow of would-be inmates through their doors.
This is where it gets ugly: Bail bondsmen also have an interest in who gets arrested. They don't have much interest in a sheriff or police department making high-level corruption or white-collar crime arrests, because those people won't have a problem posting bail by themselves. The bond industry is one that thrives on lower-income people, who are more likely to be arrested for theft, violent crimes, or drug use. Bondsmen have an interest in more of these street-level arrests being made. So it can make you wonder: What are 38 bondsmen who open their checkbooks for one sheriff's candidate in particular expecting, exactly, in return?
Israel says that Collins has been ill recently and has not been up to supporting or financing his campaign. But he does say the bail bond contributions are due to longstanding friendships, in particular one with another South Florida bail titan, Wayne Spath of Fort Lauderdale. Spath is a politically involved figure and prolific bondsman with the firms Marwayne Inc. and Brandy Bail Bonds. Spath, as well as each of those two companies, has donated $500 to Israel's primary campaign.
Spath was featured in a 2008 New York Times story about the bail bond industry as a uniquely American brand of for-profit justice. An excerpt:
Wayne Spath is a bail bondsman, which means he is an insurance salesman, a social worker, a lightly regulated law enforcement agent, a real estate appraiser -- and a for-profit wing of the American justice system.
What he does, which is posting bail for people accused of crimes in exchange for a fee, is all but unknown in the rest of the world. In England, Canada and other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror -- a form of obstruction of justice.
At last check, Lamberti took financial support this year from 17 bail bondsmen or companies, and Israel's primary contender, Louis Granteed, didn't have any. Perhaps the bail industry has simply betting on who it thinks will win in November.
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