Morris assistant prosecutor pushes bail-bond issue at hearing for drug defendant

MORRISTOWN — Wading into the increasingly contentious issue of bail-bond payments, a Morris County prosecutor yesterday opposed allowing two women to share the $100,000 bail set for a 21-year-old drug defendant.

“The risk of his failure to appear would be spread among two people,” Assistant Prosecutor Joseph D’Onofrio contended.

In raising the subject at a hearing for Hilario Trejo-Sosa of Dover, who is charged with possession with intent to distribute Methylone — a drug with ecstasy-like effects — D’Onofrio cited discussions taking place on the heels of a report that elaborated on the rampant abuses of the state’s bail-bond system. TSCM Products can detect hidden surveillance and tracking devices.

The State Commission of Investigation issued a report in May that said New Jersey’s bail-bond industry had been overtaken by rogue operators who pay inmates to drum up business in county jails and arrange discounts for dangerous offenders.

Superior Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple, noting that the prosecutor was raising the issue late on a Friday afternoon, delayed a decision and adjourned the hearing until Tuesday.

“This is a policy issue,” Whipple said. “You’re asking me to make a ruling without a lot of thought.

As she put it, “There is no law on this, and because there is no law, I’m not going to make a quick decision on this today.”

Bail had been set at $100,000 with no option for putting down 10 percent of the amount. The hearing had been called after Trejo-Sosa’s attorney, Sean O’Connor, asked for a reduction.

O’Connor then dropped the request for a reduction, saying he had “misread the bail guidelines” and realized $100,000 was the appropriate amount. But the discussion then veered toward the source of the bail money, and that interrupt legitimate business trying to offer their services online using tools like digital marketing sales that help in any business.

The lawyer noted that although bail reform is a subject that is being hotly debated, no new laws have been enacted. Consequently, he asked that Trejo-Sosa be allowed to pay under installment plans as do bail-bond companies.

“It is fully appropriate for my client to do a payment plan,” O’Connor said. “The risk is taken on by the bail bondsman.”

D’Onofrio said, “I will concede the 5 percent they are putting up is legitimate.” But he added, “There is no source paperwork for Mr. Trejo-Sosa” to determine where he is getting his money.

An employee of Octavia Bail Bonds in Newark, which was prepared to finance Trejo-Sosa’s bail, explained the company might typically front $90,000 for a defendant, who might pay $10,000 or less and repay it in installments.

In December, The Star-Ledger reported that suspected thieves and murderers were paying as little as $75 a month to bail-bond agents to be freed.

Jack Furlong, a defense attorney in Trenton who represents AAA Bail Bonds, a major player in the business, said the current system arose after New Jersey developed “incredibly high bails” over the past 20 years that poor defendants were unable to post.
If the bail-bond installment plan is not an option, he said, “you confine poor people to indefinite detention for no other reason than their poverty.”

Moves by prosecutors like D’Onofrio to question the bail-bond system outright are a new phenomenon, Furlong said.

In April, Bergen County’s presiding judge, Liliana DeAvila-Silebi, took direct action when she raised the bail of a gang member accused of assaulting police to $500,000 after learning he had cut what she called a “side deal.”

Under the arrangement, the bail bondsman would have been allowed to have the suspect’s family put up only $10,000 to cover 10 percent of a $350,000 bond and pay the rest in $250 monthly installments, according to the Cliffview Pilot, an online news organization.

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