A long-running probe into illegal bonding practices at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court has resulted in charges against another employee of the Court Clerk’s Office and another local bail bondswoman.
Janet Smith, the bondswoman, was charged Friday with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Patricia Tate, who resigned last month from Clerk Arthur Morrell’s office, was charged Sept. 11 with conspiracy to commit “honest services” mail fraud.
Both charges came in bills of information, a strong indication that Smith and Tate are cooperating with authorities.
The women are implicated for their alleged association with an unlicensed bondsman who is identified in court papers only as “Bail Bondsman A” but who previous court records indicate is Rufus Johnson. Johnson held a bondsman’s license at one time and has made frequent runs for public office in New Orleans.
Most recently, Johnson sought to run for U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s seat in Congress but was disqualified after signing an affidavit swearing he owed no ethics fines or fees. A judge tossed him from the race because he owed more than $2,000 in fees from past elections for failing to file timely campaign statements.
Federal authorities filed a criminal complaint against Johnson in December that accused him of conducting an illegal bond business, but no formal charges have followed.
Tate and Smith were the sixth and seventh people implicated as a result of the federal investigation.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office accuses Smith of allowing Bail Bondsman A to use her name on powers of attorney and a bail bond contract in transactions from 2009 to 2011.
Prosecutors also accuse Tate, 50, of accepting cash from Bail Bondsman A to create lists of criminal defendants for him. She also delivered court documents to his office on Broad Street, across the street from the criminal courthouse, prosecutors allege.
The scheme with Tate and the unnamed bondsman ran from 2007 through March 2010, although the specific acts described in the bill of information all occurred in 2009.
Morrell said Monday that he didn’t know about the allegations against Tate until after she left the office, where she had worked since 1993. Morrell said Tate had been on sick leave for about three months before resigning Aug. 17.
“Her department was pretrial, getting records prepared for the magistrate. She didn’t deal with bonds,” Morrell said.
According to both bills of information, the unnamed bondsman ran his business out of 538 S. Broad St. That’s the same building where Johnson allegedly conducted an illegal bonding operation, according to the complaint, which accuses him of using the names and licenses of three other bondsmen and paying off employees of the Clerk’s Office to get inmates out of jail illegally.
Last year, Johnson was arrested outside the Broad Street office in a separate case involving state racketeering charges.
According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Krysti Hawkins, Johnson claimed he never wrote a bond after 1997 and that his job consisted of “cleaning and sweeping around the office located at 538 Broad St.,” among other allegedly false statements.
Johnson owned that building through his company, Va Ru Ja Inc., and that’s where he engineered a scheme to use other people’s bond licenses with their permission, according to the FBI affidavit.
The three other bondsmen involved allegedly “sought and obtained” their licenses from the state Department of Insurance at Johnson’s request.
Johnson had let his bond license lapse in 1989. He was no longer eligible for a license because he’s a convicted felon, according to state insurance officials.
Reached Monday, Johnson noted only that he had not been charged.
The affidavit from last year says Johnson used the licenses and signatures of Tynekia Buckley and two other unidentified bondsmen at Criminal District Court.
Buckley, 40, pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy count related to the scheme, admitting that she worked under the direction of Bail Bondsman A.
Johnson forged their signatures and ran the show, with Buckley and the other two bondsmen needing his approval to write bonds, federal authorities alleged.
Johnson and Buckley gave Lear Enclarde, a former Orleans Parish bond clerk, an “ongoing supply of cash and other things of value” to look the other way, prosecutors alleged.
They paid another court clerk, Gilishia Garrison, who also worked for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, to free criminal defendants on personal recognizance bonds that only a judge is allowed to grant.
Both Garrison and Enclarde have pleaded guilty.
The investigation dates back to sometime before March 2012, when a federal grand jury subpoenaed several boxes of bond ledgers, bail orders, bail bond contracts and other documents from Morrell’s office.