Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bondsman Accused of Fraud

A Bakersfield man says he was held at gunpoint by a bail bondsman and the bondsman's bounty hunters in a plan to extort money.

Brian Walker is the first of six people named in a California Department of Insurance investigation into Joaquin Cruz and his former bail bond company.

Cruz was due in court Tuesday to face extortion and false imprisonment charges. He declined an interview from Lerdo Jail.

"Those bounty hunters had guns on them, and they put you in their car driving you around, telling you to give them money," Walker said.

Walker said it wasn't until after his release from jail that his nightmare began. "I was scared to death, I had never been through nothing like that before," Walker said.

Walker's sister-in-law, Candie Hughes, put up the initial $10,000 to bail him out of jail. But, she said, days later she and her brother-in-law found themselves in the middle of an extortion plot. "They told us we're not leaving their side until they get a thousand dollars or my truck," Hughes said.

Walker and Hughes said Cruz and several of his family members kidnapped them. They say the bondsmen forced them to produce a thousand dollars in cash, or Walker would be re-arrested. "They were showing up harassing me at every court hearing I had, threatening they were going to take me to jail," Walker said. "They said they wanted more money, but I didn't owe them more money."

Officers arrested Cruz last week on two misdemeanor and 13 felony charges.

The Department of Insurance regulates bondsmen and has been investigating Cruz since at least 2006. A call from one customer turned up complaints from five others, who said Cruz demanded more money from them after freeing them on bail.

"I'm glad they got caught, because now I know we were not the only ones who went through it," Walker said. "They put a lot of people through the same stuff."

Several of Cruz's family members and co-workers also were arrested in the case, and face multiple felony charges.

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