Three of the four people accused of rigging bail bonds with the help of clerks at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court over more than a decade have pleaded not guilty in federal court.
Defense attorney James Johnson and Josephine Spellman, a former employee of unlicensed bondsman Rufus Johnson, entered their pleas to charges contained in a 10-count federal indictment issued this month.
Perry Becnel, a former bondsman who has a prior federal conviction for mail fraud, entered his not guilty plea last week.
Rufus Johnson, who was at the center of a years-long federal investigation into bonding practices in Orleans Parish, appeared in federal court Friday but did not enter a plea as he seeks an attorney to represent him.
Both Rufus Johnson and Becnel lost their bail bond licenses years ago, but according to authorities, they continued to write bonds. Authorities say Rufus Johnson enlisted three women to secure valid state bondsman licenses, under which he allegedly negotiated and approved bonds.
Rufus Johnson, 65, 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. James Johnson is his son. Along with being a defense attorney, he also was the liable agent of an insurance company that allegedly backed illegal bonds.
The 53-page indictment detailed a scheme that involved alleged payoffs to court clerks to feed the bondsmen information and fudge documents to get defendants released illegally.
The most serious charges, faced by all four defendants, are conspiracy counts that carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
All told, the investigation has resulted in accusations against 11 people, many of whom already have pleaded guilty, beginning in 2011, when Gilishia Garrison, a former employee of both Criminal Court Clerk Arthur Morrell and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, admitted taking bribes to access court documents and forge recognizance bonds.
Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan set a $25,000 personal surety bail for James Johnson, an unsecured $25,000 bail for Spellman and a $100,000 cash or property bail for Becnel.
An initial trial date was set for Jan. 5 before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.
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