DETROIT (WXYZ) - It’s a bail bond system that’s allowed accused criminals to walk free and allowed millions of dollars to slip through taxpayers’ fingers. And it first came to light thanks to an Action News Investigation. Tonight, Heather Catallo uncovers millions of dollars more that the court could have pursued, but didn’t.
Make no mistake, this story is about money, and the millions of dollars our cash-strapped region didn’t pursue. But more important than money are the lives that have been affected by a system everyone agrees is broken.
It’s been more than three years since Karen Washington’s 11-year-old daughter was kidnapped from her Detroit home, and raped. But the wounds from that night in 2007 are still raw.
"She was abducted out of her own bed, taken away from home, down the street and abused," recalls her mother Karen Washington.
"I look around when I’m out on the street, looking for him myself, and it’s sad that I have to do that," she said.
Sad, because for more than three years, the man charged with the crimes has still not gone to trial. The bail bonds company that was responsible for making sure Corey Gaston showed up to court never knew to look for him after he went on the run. They didn’t know, because Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court never told them.
"He gave them money, he promised to come back…promised to come back when it was court time, and he was nowhere to be found," Washington said.
Last month the Action News Investigators showed you how, for decades, Michigan’s largest courts haven’t notified bond companies to look for the accused criminals they post bond for, once they skip out on court. It’s delayed justice for thousands of crime victims…and for taxpayers, it’s meant millions in lost revenue.
In February we told you almost $65 million in potentially forfeited bond was never pursued. But now, new data we've obtained says the number is even higher: all told, almost $90 million.
Much still needs to be done to fix today’s broken bond system, but much has already improved since we exposed the problem.
36th District Court Chief Judge Marylin Atkins tells Action News that since her court has started sending out letters like these--telling defendants to show up, or pay the court their bond--virtually every defendant who's skipped out has turned themselves in.
As a result of our report, Wayne County Circuit Court is finally holding hearings for defendants who failed to appear. Beginning April 29, Judge Michael Hathaway will be assigned to holding show cause hearings every Friday to find out why defendants didn’t show up for court. If they don’t have a good reason or can’t be found, the court may collect their bond money from companies responsible for guaranteeing their appearance.
But what about all those cases where a bond company wasn’t used? After all, most defendants put up their bond on their own or through a family member. Last week, Judge Timothy Kenny, along with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's chief of staff, and the County’s director of Corporation Counsel met to discuss just how much of the $90 million is possible to collect. Judge Kenny tells us a plan is still in the works.
As for Corey Gaston, officials with "You Walk Bail Bonds" tell Action News in a statement that they continue to “work diligently and do everything in our power to locate and arrest Mr. Gaston,” stressing that courts need to realize “the importance of prompt bail bond forfeiture notice.”
Details of their search are confidential, as company officials don’t want to tip Gaston off to where they’re looking. The next hearing in that case isn’t until May. If they can’t find Gaston by then, the bond company may be on the hook for his $250,000 bond.
The money the county may receive is no consolation for Karen Washington.
"The courts didn’t notify the bondsman that... he had didn't appear in court," recalls Washington.
"So if they had done that, it means they would have been on the case. Maybe then he wouldn’t have been gone for three years. Maybe he would have been in that day, if they only had done their job."
“You Walk Bail Bonds” says they’re having a tough time locating Corey Gaston because he’s had had an almost four-year head start on the company. If you know where Gaston might be, contact the U.S. Marshals at 800 336-0102.
Officials at the Wayne County Third Circuit Court are still formulating a plan to pursue the millions in uncollected bond. They hope to know next week how much of that money they’ll actually be able to pursue.
If you have a tip for the Action News Investigative Team, contact us at (248) 827-9466 or at email@example.com.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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