The owner of a Modesto bail bonds business will have to wait two more months to find out whether he will stand trial on allegations of holding clients against their will to extort additional payments from them.
Testimony has concluded in a preliminary hearing for Aleo John Pontillo, owner of AJ's Bail Bonds, who also is accused of conspiring with two of his employees to commit grand theft. His co-defendants are scheduled for a separate preliminary hearing later this month.
In a brief hearing Thursday morning, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen scheduled Pontillo to return March 4, when the attorneys will have an opportunity to present their closing arguments.
Then, the judge will announce his ruling in a hearing scheduled April 5. Pontillo's preliminary hearing started in mid-December and had been on a hiatus since late January so the judge could review documents submitted as evidence.
A preliminary hearing for co-defendants Janelle Marie Llorens and Mark David Davis is scheduled to start Feb. 25.
Authorities allege Pontillo and Llorens, the officer manager, were responsible for handcuffing their clients and threatening them for hours at the Yosemite Boulevard business from 2006 to 2008.
In an opening statement in the preliminary hearing, Frank Carson, Pontillo's defense attorney, said his client and other bail bondsmen have the authority to detain people who fail to comply with their bail agreement.
In response, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris said that bail agents cannot threaten to arrest someone to force them to make payments. That is extortion, he said.
State investigators have said the scheme was for the sole purpose of extorting a bail bond "premium debt," or additional payment. The clients who could not make the payments were sent back to jail without cause, according to authorities.
Davis, a bail agent from the business, is suspected of conspiring with Pontillo and Llorens to commit grand theft. State investigators say the defendants conspired from 2006 to 2010 to defraud the county of money owed or soon to be owed under the bail forfeiture process.
The three defendants, all of Modesto, also are charged with one count of insurance fraud. They remain free on bail as they await prosecution.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.