By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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.
But there might have been more than friendship involved.
Fur-store owner Pinales tells New Times that after Collins robbed him, he had a meeting with Michael Burns, who was head of the State Attorney General's criminal division, the number-two prosecutor in the state. "I was in the office and I saw him [Collins]. I got scared. I said, 'That's him! That's the guy who robbed me!' And Mr. Burns said, 'This guy's okay. He works for us now.'"
Collins denies he ever worked for prosecutors but acknowledges that Burns was a friend. In fact Burns, along with state police Lt. Anthony Pesare, who later became the department's second-in-command, testified on behalf of Collins when he successfully petitioned the courts to expunge his criminal record in 1995. From then on, Collins could say he did not have a criminal past. He was free to apply for a bail bondsman's license and a weapons permit, both of which he promptly did.
Before long he became a common sight at Providence police headquarters. Former and current cops say they often saw Collins with Urbano Prignano, who at the time was a major in charge of the narcotics unit. In some instances, they say, police would return from a drug bust and Collins would be waiting with pizza, as if he knew the bust was going down before it happened. "Collins could walk anywhere in the station," says one cop who asked not to be identified. "He had complete access."
Absurd, insists Prignano. "He didn't have no access inside the department," the retired chief retorts. "This is coming from people who don't like me. That was a very political place."
It all came to an end in 1997, when the Journal wrote a series of detailed stories exposing Collins. In their wake, Brown University studied the expungement process and concluded that up to 22 percent of the state's felony convictions had been improperly expunged over a five-year period.
The judge who'd granted Collins his bail-bond license reacted to the paper's exposé by holding a special hearing into the expungement of Collins's criminal record, a record he'd not been aware of before approving the license. Though the judge demanded his presence, Collins didn't bother attending the hearing. He surrendered his license and a short time later moved to South Florida.
"Have you ever been convicted, found guilty, or pleaded guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to a felony under the law of any municipality, county, state, territory or country whether or not a judgment of conviction has been entered?" -- Question Number 19, Section 3, State of Florida Insurance License Application.
In 1999 Collins scratched "no" in the box provided. By 2000 he was a licensed Florida bail bondsman. He settled in Deerfield Beach but set up a bail business, Universal Surety Corporation, in Miami, where there was no shortage of people in a jam with the law.
Collins may have left New England, but one man there claims the convict-turned-Miami-bail-bond-mogul remained a constant presence in his life. Arlindo DosSantos, 34 years old, is a third-generation Portuguese lobsterman from Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He was also a midlevel marijuana dealer who alleges in court documents that one of his suppliers was John P. Dana, and that Dana was partners with Collins. On August 3, 1999, FBI agents picked up DosSantos and charged him in a drug-trafficking conspiracy dating back to 1992.
DosSantos tells his story in a lengthy affidavit filed in Massachusetts federal court in July 2003. The affidavit is part of a motion to dismiss his case because of "gross government misconduct" based on the claim that Collins was working as a confidential informant for the feds while at the same time orchestrating DosSantos's defense. Parts of his narrative are corroborated by the statements of others involved. The entire document, however, is denied by Collins. "I don't even know this guy," he says, refusing further comment on the case, such as how DosSantos might know his name. Collins does admit he knew John Dana, though as "just a friend." (Dana couldn't be reached for comment, but he has never been charged with any crimes related to DosSantos's allegations.)
According to the affidavit: After his arrest, DosSantos hired an attorney and was released on $250,000 bond, using his house as collateral. Initially he agreed to cooperate with the FBI in an investigation of possible police corruption in New Bedford, where DosSantos packaged marijuana above a colleague's motorcycle shop. But he changed his mind when he became suspicious that word of his cooperation had leaked. That's when he heard from John Dana.
DosSantos says Dana (referred to as "J.D.") called and arranged a meeting: "J.D. advised me that he had a friend, a Florida bail bondsman, who had some of the best attorneys in Boston and Rhode Island working for him. ...J.D. explained that the criminal case would cost me approximately $125,000, that they would ensure that I would not receive any jail time."
DosSantos says he was told to switch to a Boston lawyer named Richard Ivker, which he did. The new attorney allegedly told him he must cooperate with the feds in the police corruption investigation because "the bail bondsman said it was necessary," according to the affidavit. (Contacted in Boston, Ivker denied DosSantos's claims as "fiction.... I am aware of the content, but it is absolutely outrageous and false, and to print it in a newspaper article would be borderline defamatory." Ivker would not say whether he knew Collins or if Collins hired him to represent DosSantos.)