An FBI agent testified Tuesday that a Modesto bail bonds business owner told him he provided credit to 90 percent of his clients, but his policy was to never surrender anyone to jail when they failed to make payments.
Instead, employees from AJ's Bail Bonds brought back clients to Aleo John Pontillo's business, where they would "renegotiate" the bail agreement with clients who had fallen behind on their payments. That's what Pontillo told Special Agent Kenneth Tam in a 2008 interview shortly after authorities served search warrants at his home and business.
Pontillo is accused of holding clients against their will handcuffing them to chairs and gym equipment to get additional payments. His preliminary hearing is under way in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Tam testified that Pontillo said he would rather take delinquent clients to small- claims court to recover money owed to his business.
These businesses typically require clients to pay a 10 percent premium on a bail bond. Tam said Pontillo asked clients to pay a 2 percent bail bond premium and ask for the rest in payments.
Pontillo told the FBI agent that AJ's Bail Bonds had to offer credit or else it wouldn't gain new clients and it couldn't compete with other bail bonds businesses.
Authorities say Pontillo, along with bail agent and office manager Janelle Marie Llorens, were responsible for handcuffing clients and threatening them at the Yosemite Boulevard business from 2006 to 2008.
Llorens' preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25, along with Mark David Davis, another bail agent from the business and the third co-defendant. The three are accused of conspiring to steal more than $250,000 from the county by submitting fraudulent bail bonds claims.
Business was raided
The bail bonds business was the focus of a federal investigation in December 2008. An investigator with the state Department of Insurance, which regulates bail bonds companies, was part of a team that raided the business.
Tam testified that he examined about 70 boxes of client files. He said they found notes in the files that corroborated a lot of the information provided by the alleged kidnapping victims.
The FBI agent remembered finding a note in the file of Walter Scott Osborne that said: "Have we collected any money yet? We need to get this done." Osborne told a sheriff's detective that he was taken from his home to the bail bonds business and handcuffed to a weight bench until his father arrived with a $100 or $200 payment.
In May 2008, Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy Anthony Hinostroza interviewed Antonio Robles, one of the other alleged kidnapping victims. Hinostroza testified Tuesday that Robles agreed to meet at a west Modesto market with employees from AJ's Bail Bonds.
The employees told Robles he had failed to appear in court and owed money on his bail agreement. Robles told the deputy that the employees then took him to the business. Robles asked if they were taking him to jail, and the employees said they were taking him to AJ's Bail Bonds.
At the business, Robles was handcuffed and told to call someone to bring money, according to Hinostroza. Robles made a $470 payment to the business and was released.
Questions about 'victim'
During cross-examination, the deputy said Robles never described himself as a kidnapping victim. Hino-stroza testified that he didn't know whether Robles had a series of failures to appear in court; he knew of only one such incident.
The deputy said he didn't remember seeing Robles' bail agreement paperwork or looking into the client's payment history with the bail bonds business.
The preliminary hearing is expected to resume today with cross-examination of Tam.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.