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
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
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.
"It's a real problem," Monrabal says in exasperation. She stopped hand-delivering mail to Universal Surety this past January because "they didn't seem to care." Instead she began taking it to the post office to be returned. She was diligent about it. "I felt like it was my civic duty," she explains, "because these are citations and court notices, these are people who could go to jail if they don't get this stuff, and it's the bail bondsman's job to make sure they appear in court."
When competing bondsmen around the county learned of Collins's courtroom victory in the Cabrera case, they were stunned. "He never has to pay his bonds," says one who asked not to be identified. At least that's the impression in the bail-bond community. Because estreatures are assigned to civil court judges randomly, the bondsmen's rancor turned to the county attorney's office.
At the time the $400,000 bond was vacated, Airan-Pace had been handling estreatures for about a year, along with five or six other assignments. She says that when she took the bond assignment, she was directed by more senior attorneys in handling estreatures. "I was told if there were sufficient grounds per statute to agree to vacate, then we would agree to vacate [without a court hearing]," she explains. "I got those directions from the two attorneys who did bonds before me. This was because there were so many bond cases. We got like 25 to 30 a week." The work, she adds, is "time-consuming, cumbersome, and detail-oriented."
Airan-Pace left the county attorney's office in February to enter private practice. Since then the county's procedures have been changed. Her former boss, Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Ginsburg, concedes that his office has been receiving complaints about the way bond cases are managed. "We have assigned this area to a new lawyer, Scott Mario, and he's taking a whole fresh look at it," Ginsburg says. The office is now opposing more bond estreatures. They've also concluded that many of the civil court hearings have been proceeding improperly. According to the law, before a bond company can initiate an estreature case, it must deposit with the county the full amount of the bond in question. Miami-Dade's circuit court judges, for some reason, have not been enforcing that requirement.
Within months of taking over, Mario challenged a $150,000 Collins/Seneca bond in which Collins's attorney claimed the company had not been notified of all pertinent hearings. Mario argued that the claims were frivolous and that the company received plenty of notice. He also pointed out that the bond money had not been deposited with the county as required, and so it was premature to hold an estreature hearing. The judge denied Seneca's appeal and in May ordered the company to pay the bond in full. When Seneca didn't pay by the deadline, state regulators suspended the company's license to write bonds. Seneca is, at least temporarily, out of business in Florida.
Throughout 2003, Arlindo DosSantos's new lawyer, Robert Goldstein, pressed the motion to dismiss the criminal case against his client based on government misconduct. Several times he has tried to serve David Collins with a subpoena to appear in court, but with no luck. "In my opinion he avoided the process servers," Goldstein says. The judge in the case has agreed that Collins's testimony is necessary and demanded that the government bring him to Massachusetts. "The U.S. Attorney's Office agreed they would produce him, but Collins told them he was unable to travel for 60 days starting October 12," Goldstein recounts. The feds then agreed to produce Collins by December 9, 2003.
Just before that date, the government instead made DosSantos an offer: If he dropped the misconduct dismissal motion, they would drop their opposition to releasing him on bail. DosSantos accepted and was set free without bail and without travel restrictions. His lawyer won't comment, but that type of leniency commonly suggests that plea negotiations are under way.
Last month Joseph Pavone was released on bail while the court reviews his own misconduct allegations involving Collins.
When Collins learned New Times was working on a story about him, his Miami lawyers threatened to sue the paper if it published allegations that he was an informant for various law enforcement agencies. When tough didn't work, he tried nice, purchasing full-page advertisements in New Times touting his bond company's "honest services" and alerting readers to "look for our upcoming article on South Florida's most successful and #1 bail bonds company."
Meanwhile Seneca doesn't appear to be in a hurry to pay its forfeited $150,000 bond. At press time its license was still suspended. Not one to be deterred, Collins has signed on as managing general agent for another insurance company, Indiana Lumbermans.