The owner of a bail bond business pleaded guilty today to illegally soliciting business from the Orange County Jail system in a plea deal that is expected to put him behind bars for six months, according to a prosecutor.
The bondsman also
Santa Ana resident James Everett Morris Jr., 49, who owns James Morris Bail Bonds, pleaded guilty to three felony counts of paying a person who is not a bail licensee a commission in connection with a bail transaction and a felony count of having an arrangement with an inmate to inform and notify Morris of arrests, Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon said.
Morris paid cash to a jail inmate to ask others in custody if they needed bail. The inmate would then call Morris and hand the phone to the new customer, Zimmon said.
On one occasion the inmate was paid $100 and another time he was paid $200, Zimmon said.
It's difficult to determine how much business Morris generated with the scheme, Zimmon said.
Zimmon said that the restrictions on bondsmen keep prisoners from getting hurt -- if it were legal, bond agents could pay criminals to coerce, bribe and extort other inmates into using a particular bail service.
“It stops being an issue of an inmate being able to contact someone, and … it starts becoming a safety issue,” Zimmon said.
The most significant punishment for Morris is the loss of his license, Zimmon said.
“When they're getting caught, it's a serious consequence that they lose their license,” Zimmon said. “Hopefully, word gets out that if you do this, this is the consequence.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner accepted Zimmon's plea.
Morris was expected to be sentenced Sept. 14 to six months in jail and three years of formal probation, Zimmon said.
If Morris were convicted at trial he would have faced up to five years in prison, Zimmon said.
Another bail bond agent who worked for Morris, Kenneth Lance Hendrick, 49, of Mission Viejo, is awaiting trial. He is next due in court July 9.
Hendrick is charged with 11 felony counts of arranging with an inmate to inform him of arrests, two felony counts of recommending the name of an attorney to someone arrested and a felony count of a bail agent allowing someone without a license to solicit bail on his behalf, according to Zimmon.
Prosecutors allege Hendrick had an agreement with 11 inmates in the jail to make referrals. Hendrick allegedly had one inmate solicit bail for him on June 29, 2010, prosecutors allege. Hendrick is also accused of recommending an attorney to an inmate.
Hendrick could face up to 11 years and eight months in prison if convicted, according to prosecutors.
John Crandall contributed to this story.