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Phone scam targets Spokane businesses

Spokane businesses are being targeted for cash in a scheme that involves someone posing as a jailer to collect bail bond money for a supposedly arrested employee.

At least three businesses today reported phone calls from a man claiming to be a sheriff's corrections deputy seeking bail money for an employee jailed for a drunken driving crash, said Deputy Craig Chamberlin, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

The son of the owner of Dewey's Burgers and Brews on North Division Street was at the bank trying to withdraw money when a bank employee grew suspicious of the scenario, Chamberlin said.

Earlier today, a man claiming to be James Sullivan with a sheriff's personnel number of 6331 tried to get $1,600 from another local business owner. The man told the owner he couldn't give the owner the employee's name because of privacy laws but said he could provide a general description and that if he guessed the name, he would confirm if he or she was in custody.

The owner offered a name and the man confirmed and said he was in jail for drunken driving and for the crash and needed $16,000 to get out, or a $1,600 payment through a bail bond company.

The owner withdrew $2,000 and the man stayed on the phone for more than an hour as the owner went to a WalMart to send the money in two $800 money orders. The man requested one be sent to Nichole and the other to Seth Thomas in Florida, then hung up when the owner said he would only send the money to an actual business.

Sheriff's officials confirmed no employee by the name of James Sullivan exists. Corrections deputies are not authorized to contact people to set up bond agreements.

Anyone who is targeted by the scam is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Idaho Supreme Court rejects bail bond firm’s lawsuit against county

The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Allied Bail Bonds after the firm lost a lawsuit against Kootenai County, charging that the county sheriff was infringing on its business by steering jail inmates toward credit card bonds rather than its bail bonds. The company offered constitutional and other arguments, but the high court rejected all of them, many on procedural grounds.

"In effect, Allied asserts that by accepting credit card bond payments, the sheriff has introduced a new form of competition to Allied’s licensed bail bond business," Justice Joel Horton wrote in the court's unanimous decision. "Allied asks this Court to ignore Idaho precedent which characterizes a license as a mere privilege and elevate its bail bond license to a protected property interest. We are unwilling to do so." The court awarded attorney fees to the county, ruling that Allied's appeal was "not reasonably based in either fact or law." You can read the decision here.

Judges get more power to restrict bail

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington voters overwhelmingly decided Tuesday to give judges more power to deny a suspect bail, after last year’s brutal slaying of four Lakewood police officers by a gunman who had recently been released.

The Legislature approved the measure in the spring, but it was a constitutional amendment and needed voter approval to be enacted. It was passing with about 86 percent of the  vote.

Previously, the only charge for which bail could be denied was aggravated murder. The amendment allows state judges to deny bail when a suspect is charged with any crime carrying a possible life  sentence and poses a danger to the community. About 4,100 defendants a year are charged with such crimes in the state.

“It is a new tool prosecutors and judges can use to keep the baddest of the bad off the streets,” said Reagan Dunn, executive director of the Remember Lakewood campaign. “This was a measured, common sense referendum to the people. It doesn’t violate defendants’ rights and it seems sensible to most people.”

Maurice Clemmons (right) had posted bail less than a week before he killed the four Lakewood officers last November. He had been arrested for investigation of child rape, which could have brought a life sentence because of his previous criminal record.

Among the measure’s supporters was Kim Renninger, the widow of Lakewood Sgt. Mark Renninger, who says it could save someone’s life.

Officers Greg Richards, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Renninger (pictured clockwise from upper left) were ambushed at a coffee shop in a Tacoma suburb on Nov. 29. (Griswold’s sister works for the Spokane Police Department. Her parents live in Post Falls.) Clemmons eluded police for two days, but was shot and killed by an officer in Seattle after a massive manhunt.

Opponents of the measure argued that judges could already set high bail or other conditions of release. The problem in Clemmons’ case wasn’t that the judge who granted the release had too little authority, but too little information about the defendant’s extremely violent past, they said.

At least a dozen other states, including California and Florida, have constitutional clauses or statutes that allow judges to deny bail for charges other than capital crimes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gunman threatens bail bondsman

A man accused of trying to steal an ATM last fall was arrested today after a bail bond company employee said he pointed a gun at her.

George W. Butrick, 32, pulled a 9mm Ruger handgun on a woman who works at Angel’s Bail Bonds, 1215 N. Monroe St., about 12:38 p.m., Spokane police said.

Butrick, who court records show used the company to post $85,000 bond for 13 felony charges on Dec. 21, became upset when the employee accused him of violating his release agreement, witnesses told police.

“They were asking for more collateral to bolster the bond, and I don’t think he cared for that too much,” said Spokane police Officer Tim Moses.

A woman who answered the phone at Angel’s Bail Bonds declined comment.

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” she said.

Butrick was jailed on charges of assault and unlawful possession of a firearm, police said. He is prohibited from possessing firearms because of felony convictions.

He’s accused of smashing a convenience store window and trying to steal an ATM on Oct. 21 (the culprit is pictured at left) - two days after he left Spokane County Jail on $15,000 bail after being arrested with illegal weapons and drugs, including heroin, according to court documents.

Butrick was arrested for the alleged attempted ATM theft Nov. 4 but left jail again but was rearrested Nov. 27 after a Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy found him with a an 8-inch knife, a hatchet and methamphetmine during a traffic stop, according to court documents.

A court order prohibits him from possessing weapons.

Since then, he’s accrued a slew of felony charges that he bonded out on in late December, including charges of second-degree identity theft and second-degree theft for allegedly cashing a forged check on Oct. 29, according to court documents. He’s charged with attempted second-degree theft, second-degree burglary and third-degree malicious mischief for the alleged ATM incident.

While a suspect in that attempted ATM theft, Butrick has not been accused of any ATM burglaries involving stolen vehicles smashing through storefronts.

No charges have been filed in those recent cases, but a group of career criminals was recently charged with a string of similar ATM thefts in early 2009.

Charges dropped against bondsman

A bail bondsman once called “a threat to the administration of justice” by a prosecutor has been cleared of wrongdoing in a case his lawyer said amounted to a “media circus.”

Ryan M. Holmes, 46, owner of Holmes Brothers Bail Bonds, was accused of forcing a customer to give him thousands of dollars. He was arrested in front of TV news crews last August at the Spokane County Courthouse.

But charges against Holmes and his bounty hunter, Brian D. Steenhard, 38, were dismissed this week after the prosecutor realized they’d done nothing criminal.

“It reads like a pretty heinous crime” in the police affidavit, Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Johnson said today. But, “there was a fundamental assumption that turned out not to be correct.”

Police thought Holmes had collected $6,000 from the 70-year-old alleged victim that he’d already gotten back from the court.

Instead, Holmes was collecting money owed to him for investigative costs, Johnson said. The man had signed a contract authorizing him to do so, Johnson said.

Charges of first-degree theft, attempted first-degree theft, first-degree identity theft, obtaining a signature by duress or deception and offering a false instrument for filing or record were dismissed Monday against Holmes.

Steenhard’s charges of first-degree theft and obtaining a signature by duress or deception also were dismissed.

Holmes had his bondsman license suspended over the incident and is still working to get it back, said his lawyer, Tim Note.

“He’s had some pretty big harm done to his business,” Note said.

Holmes will be speaking with media on Thursday.

Past coverage: Bail bondsman faces theft charges