At one point, Samantha Egana realized that she and and a close family friend had paid more than $6,000 to a New Orleans bail bondsman to keep her son out of jail.
According to a lawsuit filed Friday, that was almost double what Egana had agreed to pay in a written contract with Blair's Bail Bonds, which put up the full $26,000 bail for her son — and also was double the premium allowed by state law.
Blair's went to extreme lengths to collect, according to the suit, which describes bounty hunters scooping up Ronald Egana at his home and holding the 33-year-old man handcuffed as a hostage, threatening to put him back in jail if his family members didn't keep handing over more cash.
Filed Friday by the Southern Policy Law Center on behalf of Samantha Egana and her friend Tiffany Brown, the lawsuit accuses the longtime local bondsman of submitting the family on three occasions to “abusive and exploitative actions ... including kidnapping and extortion to collect illegal fees."
Blair Boutte, the owner of Blair's Bail Bonds and an active local political consultant, did not immediately respond to text messages or calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit offers a window on the confusion and hidden fees associated with some commercial bail bonds.
When family members and friends can’t afford to pay the full bail set in court, they purchase commercial bail bonds so that their loved ones can be released from jail.
Legally, bail is meant only to ensure that defendants will show up in court for their next scheduled appearance, but the amounts set by judges for the same offense vary widely between jurisdictions and even between judges in the same jurisdiction.
For instance, Ronald Egana, no longer a client of Blair’s, is now free on a so-called signature bond, which allowed him to be released on the strength of Brown’s signed promise that Egana will return to court. That signature bond required only a $30 court fee.
Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers filed the case seeking damages and an injunction to stop defendants from being exploited.
It was also filed as a potential class-action suit. If certified as such by a judge, it could apply to anyone who had similar experiences doing business with Blair’s or several other entities associated with the longtime local bail bondsman: New Orleans Bail Bonds, Bankers Insurance Co. and Alternative to Incarceration, a company that provided ankle monitoring equipment.
The complaint alleges that the bonding operations violated numerous laws, including the Truth in Lending Act and federal and state racketeering laws, based on claims of kidnapping and extortion. It also accuses the companies of false imprisonment.
“These companies used the criminal justice system to squeeze as much money as possible from families desperate to get their loved ones out of jail but too poor to pay the excessive bond on their own,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The lawsuit outlines how Ronald Egana was charged $10 a day for an ankle monitor that was not ordered by a judge but was instead used by armed bounty hunters working for Blair’s who would find him, “kidnap him from his home, workplace and on his way to court and hold him against his will, in an effort to extort money.”
By late last year, his mother, Samantha Egana, 52, had handed over everything she had: her savings and money she’d intended to use to pay her rent, her lights and phone bills, her life insurance, even to put gas in her car.
Then it happened again. Armed employees of Blair’s Bail Bonds picked up her son and called, saying that he was going to jail unless she came up with more money.
“I was crying, shaking likes leaves in a tree,” she said. And then she began to total her receipts. She realized that she’d already paid far more than the $3,275 she’d promised.
She explained that to the personnel at Blair’s, to no avail, she said, telling them she had no more money and asking them to release her son and allow him to walk out of Blair’s Mid-City office.
When they refused, she sat on the office porch, chain-smoking cigarettes and waiting for Brown to arrive with the demanded money, again borrowed from friends and family.
It was at that moment that Samantha Egana knew they had to take legal action. “What’s in my heart is that no one should have to go through this,” she said.