When defendant Albert Scaletti looked out into the gallery in Judge Jeffrey Swartz's courtroom on August 4, it must have been a comfort to see his pal and colleague James Hird. "I felt bad for the guy," Hird says. "Of course I was there." Scaletti, a 33-year-old bail bondsman, had been charged with brutally assaulting an innocent man during a bounty hunt.
If Scaletti was happy to see his friend, Miami-Dade Police Det. Patricia Ares was downright ebullient. She had been looking for Hird. It seems the 39-year-old may have been a little too concerned about Scaletti's case. A witness told police that Hird attempted to shut her up by first offering a bribe, then threatening her.
In fact Ares had been hunting for Hird. After spotting him among the onlookers, the detective walked over and asked to see him in the hallway. Then she arrested him for witness tampering and operating as a bail bondsman without a license. Hird, reached this past week at Jimmy and Gloria's Bail Bonds, denies the charges. He said he intends to plead not guilty. "And I'm talking to my lawyer," he adds. "We may have to sue people to clear this whole thing up."
Welcome to the outlaw world of the bail-bond business, where, increasingly, the guys empowered to free you from jail are ending up behind bars.
Take Scaletti. In the early morning hours of June 29, he and a team of men working for Jimmy and Gloria's (a company that belongs to Hird's wife, Gloria Pimentel) were looking for Shalresia Tomlin, a 28-year-old South Miami-Dade woman out on bond. She had been arrested for shoplifting from a outlet store and fighting with security guards, jailed, and released on bail. Then she apparently didn't show up for a court appointment. The bounty hunters found her in the car of Daniel Walker, Jr., a friend who was giving her a ride. The men rushed the car and grabbed Tomlin, according to both Walker and Tomlin. Scaletti then smashed his gun into Walker's face and mouth, threw him to the ground, kicked him, and called him a "nigger."
Scaletti allegedly left Walker bleeding in the street and took Tomlin back to jail. On June 30 Ares interviewed Tomlin about the beating. Afterward Tomlin says she spoke to Hird about bonding her out. He refused. "He said he knew I had talked to Detective Ares about the beating of Mr. Walker," Tomlin's affidavit states. "He said if I changed my statement then he would reconsider giving me a bond."
Hird vehemently denies the accusations. "I had no idea she had talked to the detective," he says. "[Tomlin] was the one calling us over and over, trying to get out of jail."
Tomlin was released after another company posted her bond. She claims Hird attempted to intimidate her. "Approximately a week later, Jim Hird called me and said: 'You don't want to be fucked up with us!'" Tomlin recounts. "He has threatened to claim I stole money from him if I didn't change my statement about Albert Scaletti.... He said he would have me put back in jail if I didn't change my statement about Albert Scaletti. He said he knew police officers and [assistant] state attorneys and the case wouldn't get anywhere, so I had better change my statement about Albert Scaletti."
"That's untrue. I never spoke to her," Hird fumes. "I've been around the law too long to say something so dumb. Plus she owes us $400 from a previous bond. This is crazy."
Walker, who lost eight teeth after Scaletti allegedly attacked him, told police that "since [the beating] I have seen several strange, suspicious men around my house. Suspicious men have driven slowly by my house. Suspicious men have walked up to my car in the driveway with two-way radios." He didn't know who the men were.
One thing is clear. If Hird has been working at the bail-bond agency, he has broken the law. The state department of insurance, which regulates the industry, revoked Hird's license in 1997, following a grand theft conviction. (He swindled about $18,000 from a former employer, according to court records.) In 1996 he pleaded guilty to grand theft auto, when authorities caught him driving a stolen 1996 Lexus. The state prohibits felons from working in any capacity in bail bonding.
Yet these days Hird has bonded out of jail and even answers the phone for Jimmy and Gloria's. (The phone is forwarded to his home, he says.) Two industry sources confirm he works there. He even solicited bond business at the Miami-Dade County jail after his August 4 arrest, claims an eyewitness who asked not to be identified.
"All I do is help with the phones and whatever [at Jimmy and Gloria's]," Hird counters. "I'm not even in the office. I answer from my home." He acknowledges that he was at the jail the weekend after his arrest, but asserts he was chauffeuring his wife, who is disabled.
The notion that rogue bondsmen might be running around beating up people and threatening witnesses apparently startled Judge Swartz, who set Scaletti's bail at $250,000. The jurist also set several extremely stringent conditions: Scaletti can't employ a bond company with which he is associated; the collateral used to secure the bond cannot be substituted once the bond is posted. (In other words no putting up a house as collateral, then later substituting cash.) Additionally Scaletti must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet; allow police to trace calls to his home phone; turn over all past, present, and future cell-phone records; surrender his passport and firearms; and refrain from involvement in the bond business.
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Needless to say, Scaletti is still behind bars.
"Losing Teeth, Laying Blame," by Tristram Korten, July 15