Devil or Angel

True or False:

David Collins is Miami's leading bail bondsman.

David Collins has lots of friends in law enforcement.

David Collins says he's put his criminal past behind him.

His defenders, including the former police chief of Providence, Rhode Island, Urbano Prignano, say Collins is a model of rehabilitation. "You never made a mistake in your life?" Prignano asks pointedly. "He got in some trouble and straightened his life out."

The issue of his character might have found a delicate balance on that fulcrum -- present businessman versus former thug -- except that Wayne David Collins, Jr., has had a difficult time leaving his past behind.


Two of Collins's powerful pals: Former Providence 
Police Chief Urbano Prignano (top) and Anthony 
Pesare, former second-in-command of Rhode Island's 
state police
Two of Collins's powerful pals: Former Providence Police Chief Urbano Prignano (top) and Anthony Pesare, former second-in-command of Rhode Island's state police
After Collins had his lawyers threaten New 
Times, he tried a different tack: He bought 
full-page ads touting his firm's services, including his 
hiring of former state regulator Sally Burt, shown in the 
ad with Collins
After Collins had his lawyers threaten New Times, he tried a different tack: He bought full-page ads touting his firm's services, including his hiring of former state regulator Sally Burt, shown in the ad with Collins

Collins doesn't like to talk unless his lawyer, Joseph S. Rosenbaum, is present, and even then most of it is off the record. When he's on the record, as he was one day recently, Collins can get hot. "I came down here not knowing anybody. I went to bail-bond school. I work as hard as anybody. I abide by the law and I never asked anybody for anything!" he fumed at those who would question his reputation. But some people are doing just that, people Collins views with contempt. "These guys," he sneered, "are cooking up a story to get out of jail. You're gonna print that crap?"

Collins the businessman is concerned about echoes of Collins the goon that have surfaced in a federal criminal case now wending its way through the system in Massachusetts. The defendant, whom the feds accuse of trafficking marijuana, says he worked with a man named John Dana, whose principal business partner was David Collins.

According to court documents, Collins allegedly hired a lawyer for the defendant in an elaborate scheme to control events and make some money. The lawyer succeeded in having the criminal charges dismissed, though Collins took credit. According to the accused man, Collins bragged that the dismissal was the result of his close ties to federal agents.

Then Collins demanded a huge sum of money. When the defendant couldn't pay, Dana allegedly paid him a visit in the company of a "bald muscular guy with piercings going through his eyes ... sent by J.D.'s boss, the bail bondsman, because I owed a lot of money," the defendant states in a 2003 sworn affidavit filed in his case. "This guy explained that ... my life and my family's life would be in danger" if payment wasn't made.

Collins, of course, rejects this claim as fantasy. But it's been corroborated by none other than the scary-looking bald guy, Joseph Pavone, who faces federal charges in an unrelated case. "I, Joseph Pavone, was working for John P. Dana and David Collins as 'hired muscle' and as a debt collector," Pavone asserts in a recent affidavit, adding that "John P. Dana ... explained to [the accused man] that if he did not pay, that [he] and his family would be killed."

Pavone and the accused pot smuggler are not the only people who link Collins to criminal activity. His name also appears in FBI interviews with drug dealers as well as in cases involving robberies and narcotics transactions.

In at least three instances, criminal defendants in New England have alleged that Collins insinuated himself into their proceedings -- hiring their lawyers, making big promises that his law-enforcement connections could make their charges disappear -- and then demanded large amounts of money for his services.

Providence police sources say they've heard all this before. But Collins, who made sure to pal around with only the most powerful lawmen while in Rhode Island, was perceived as untouchable. "He played law enforcement up here like a violin," says one Providence cop, who asked not to be identified. "It's supposed to be the other way around."

Collins denies the accusations wholesale. In fact he says he's never met Pavone or the defendant in the federal trafficking case. His attorney, Rosenbaum, puts it this way: "These are desperate people making these claims, and they will do anything to get out of jail."


Despite being the home of the Ivy League's Brown University, Providence is still a rusty port town with a history of mob-influenced corruption that can make Miami's scandals seem quaint. (Its popular mayor, Buddy Cianci, is currently in federal prison for turning city hall into a one-stop shopping center for extortion and bribery.) In his strut and language, Collins is a native son. He grew up in tough Italian-American neighborhoods, Federal Hill and Silver Lake, where he ran petty scams in the street, according to newspaper articles and friends who knew him then. But he was apparently a kid with ambitions.

On a November afternoon in 1986, eigh-teen-year-old Collins and an accomplice walked into Abraham's Fur Salon, pointed a gun at owner Francisco Pinales, tied him up, and made off with $100,000 in furs. The same year as the fur heist, Collins was arrested in a hit-and-run incident in which he tried to bribe the victim into recanting, according to the Providence Journal-Bulletin. In 1987 he pleaded no contest to both felonies, the paper reported. (He was fined and received a suspended sentence.)

A year after that, he was arrested for torching a business, but authorities dropped the charges. "This person here is the devil," Collins told the Journal, referring to his criminal past, before he went straight. The turning point, Collins said, came when he got a job as an errand boy in the politically connected law office of Joseph Bevilacqua, a family friend whose father had been a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice forced to resign during a probe into his alleged ties to mobsters. That's when Collins found his focus. That's when he became friendly with men who wear badges.

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