A former officer manager at AJ’s Bail Bonds testified Thursday that clients were brought back to the Modesto business only with the owner’s approval.
The business owner, Aleo John Pontillo, 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.
“If they were brought back to the office, AJ needed to be there,” Janelle Marie Llorens told the jury.
Llorens was the office manager at AJ’s Bail Bonds until she was arrested in September 2011, along with co-defendants Pontillo and Mark David Davis. She has agreed to testify against her two co-defendants in exchange for a plea deal.
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Llorens said in court that Pontillo needed to be at the business when clients were taken there because he would ask them why they failed to appear in court, failed to stay in contact with bail agents or failed to make their payments on time.
She testified that clients were brought back to the business on Yosemite Boulevard “because they wanted to fix the situation and didn’t want to go back to jail.”
Llorens worked at AJ’s Bail Bonds for several years. She first would handle filing, then additional clerical work and data entry. Later, she became a licensed bail agent and eventually became the office manager overseeing several departments in the business.
She also worked for Pontillo as a nanny to his children, living at his home for a while and forming a close relationship with his children.
She testified that she typically delegated work duties to department managers, who supervised other employees. But she and another office manager reported directly to Pontillo.
“It was his business, and he had the final say,” Llorens said about Pontillo.
Clients brought back to the business usually would speak to Pontillo first. “No, I would never say he acted unprofessionally,” Llorens said about her former boss speaking to clients.
She would, at times, be asked to chaperone female clients who were brought back to the business in handcuffs. Llorens testified that she remembers seeing one man, a client, handcuffed to gym equipment in the back of the business. She said he was probably there for an hour or two.
She also remembered another client who was brought back to the business by employees and urinated on her chair. Llorens said they didn’t discover that the woman had urinated on her seat until after she had left the business, but she said she couldn’t remember how long the woman had been at the business.
Llorens was questioned about a January 2008 incident in which Estevan Montanez and his girlfriend, Alicia Gutierrez, were brought back to the business. He was a client at AJ’s Bail Bonds.
Llorens testified that she couldn’t remember why Montanez was brought back to the business, or whether she locked the business’s front doors after the two were taken inside. She said it might have been because he had entered the country illegally, at one point, and he was a flight risk.
Llorens told the jury, “I may have locked the doors after they came in. ... I don’t remember the situation 100 percent.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris showed Llorens bond tracking information from AJ’s Bail Bonds that indicates Montanez was brought back to the business for failing to make his payment.
In July, Llorens agreed to the plea deal with prosecutors. She pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit grand theft.
Initially, Llorens also was charged with conspiring to kidnap for the purpose of extortion, insurance fraud, perjury and violating state insurance regulations. Prosecutors will drop those charges when her testimony is no longer needed and as long as she fully cooperates.
According to the investigators, Pontillo, Llorens and Davis conspired from 2006 to 2010 to defraud the county of money owed or soon to be owed under the bail forfeiture process.
Once a client fails to appear in court and the bail bond has been forfeited, a bail bond business has 180 days to find the client. If not, the business forfeits the price of the bail bond.
Llorens on Thursday spoke about Davis’ role in the business. She said the bail agent was responsible for writing court motions to extend the time to find the missing client. And Davis also would write motions challenging the court’s order for the business to forfeit the price of the bond, according to Llorens.
She said she provided Davis with information on the clients, but he worked directly with Pontillo on what would be done with each bail forfeiture file. “I had nothing to do with what decisions were made,” Llorens told the jury.
Llorens’ charge of conspiracy to commit grand theft has an enhancement of stealing more than $200,000. She could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Her plea deal guarantees that she will be sentenced to 180 days in jail, serve three years of probation and pay restitution.
Her testimony is expected to continue next week in Stanislaus Superior Court.