August 18, 2014

Former Modesto bail bonds clerk testifies of handcuffed clients, demands for money

A former clerk testified Monday that she saw clients handcuffed inside a Modesto bail bonds business while the owner berated them, demanding they pay what they owed.

A former clerk testified Monday that she saw clients handcuffed inside a Modesto bail bonds business while the owner berated them, demanding they pay what they owed.

“There were times you would see people handcuffed to the (gym) equipment,” Sylvia Perez told the jury about her time working at AJ’s Bail Bonds in Modesto.

Aleo John Pontillo, the bail bonds business owner, is on trial. He is accused of conspiring in holding clients against their will to extort additional payments from them. He also is accused of stealing money in a bail forfeiture fraud.

Frank Carson, Pontillo’s attorney, has argued in the trial that no AJ’s Bail Bonds clients were kidnapped. He said the people signed contracts with the business that allowed for their capture if they failed to comply with the bail bond agreement.

The defense attorney has told the jurors that some of the prosecution’s “star witnesses” were employees fired by Pontillo. He urged the jury to consider their credibility as witnesses.

During cross-examination Monday, Perez said she quit her job at AJ’s Bail Bonds in February 2006 because her father was gravely ill, Pontillo was rude to her and she got a new job. She said she left after Pontillo installed a security camera over her desk.

“I was just uncomfortable working with a camera over you, looking down my blouse,” she testified. She also said she didn’t know what the camera was focused on, and that Pontillo installed cameras over the desks of other employees at the business.

Perez was responsible for data entry, interpreting for Spanish-speaking clients and collecting money from clients making payments at the business. Once she collected the money, she would place the payments in a safe.

Carson asked Perez whether Pontillo installed the cameras because he was worried she mishandled the money. She said she never had problems handling the money, and that she left her job at AJ’s Bail Bonds on good terms.

“I don’t remember the day I left, I was just happy that I was gone,” Perez told the jurors.

She said she worked at the business for about two years. She remembered seeing clients brought back in handcuffs to the Yosemite Boulevard business.

Perez testified that Pontillo would curse at the clients about not making their payments. From her desk at the front of the office, she said she could hear Pontillo speaking to the clients in an aggressive tone.

“I would see them sometimes crying, or they had wet their pants,” Perez said about the clients.

The former clerk testified that she remembers Pontillo berating two 18-year-old men about not making their payments. She said the clients were handcuffed in the gym as Pontillo told them that he had gotten them out on bail and he wanted his money.

Carson repeatedly objected to questions from Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris. The defense attorney argued that the prosecutor’s questions were leading the witness or would produce hearsay testimony from Perez. The judge sustained some of the objections, others were overruled.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue Tuesday in Stanislaus Superior Court.

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