In late June of last year, a deranged bounty hunter smashed Daniel Walker in the mouth with a gun barrel, shattering eight teeth. But Walker wasn't even the intended target of 34-year-old Albert Scaletti, Jr. The vicious bail bondsman was seeking a passenger in Walker's car. Regardless, since that time the seriously injured former baker has been reduced to eating only soft food. Now Walker's long wait for new teeth is nearing an end.
Scaletti pleaded guilty late last month to aggravated assault with a firearm and aggravated battery. Judge Ronald Dresnick ordered, among other things, that Scaletti pay $7500 for dental surgery to repair Walker's mouth. Justice for 28-year-old Walker, however, may involve more than prosthetic teeth. It also could produce a windfall for law enforcement. Scaletti's plea-bargain arrangement requires him to cooperate with authorities investigating his former boss, Jim Viola, owner of A-Alternative Release Bail Bond Programs, Inc., Miami-Dade's largest bail-bond company, according to a source with knowledge of the case.
In the mid-Nineties state and federal authorities investigated allegations that Viola routinely paid bribes and proffered kickbacks to Miami-Dade corrections officers in exchange for funneling bond business his way. Corrections officers allegedly would refer cases to Viola for a percentage of the bond amount. Officers also reportedly used the department computer system to identify new inmates and fed the information to Viola's employees. Some inmates interviewed by authorities claimed guards forced them to use Viola's company. The alleged corruption was so successful that Viola's business grew to the point that other bail bondsmen repeatedly attempted to have state and federal authorities intervene. (New Times chronicled the scheme in Inside Job, May 6, 1999.)
At one point in 1997, a task force of state and local investigators arrested Scaletti for a penny-ante scheme in which he posed as a police officer in order to take advantage of the police union's discounted cellular telephone rates. The real purpose of the arrest, though, was to enable authorities to squeeze Scaletti and have him work with them against Viola. He refused, claiming he feared for his life. The investigation fizzled and seemed to fade away. Until now.
According to the source familiar with Scaletti's recent plea agreement, he now must collaborate with authorities in an investigation of corrupt local bail-bond agencies. Unfortunately I can't comment on that, says Assistant State Attorney Christos Lagos, who prosecuted Scaletti in Walker's case.
Walker, of course, neither knew about Scaletti's background nor cared. He was simply giving a friend a ride home in a South Miami-Dade neighborhood near Homestead the night of June 29, 1999, when two cars cut him off and seven men surrounded him with guns drawn. They were after Walker's passenger, Shalresia Tomlin, who was out on bail following her arrest for robbery (she was accused of shoplifting from an outlet store and then fighting with security guards who tried to stop her).
Apparently she failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance, so Scaletti and his goons went on the hunt. While several men grabbed Tomlin, Scaletti went after Walker, who had just finished his night shift as a baker at a local supermarket. The bounty hunter bashed Walker with his gun, then dragged him out of the car, kicked him, repeatedly called him nigger, and threw his keys into the brush.
Maybe Scaletti was accustomed to acting with impunity; he's been charged with battery three times since 1984, but charges were dropped in each case. Not this time. The attack so offended Miami-Dade Police Det. Patricia Ares that she worked overtime to nail him. Suddenly Scaletti and his cohorts were nervous.
As Ares zeroed in on her prey, her star witness, Shalresia Tomlin, complained that one of Scaletti's accomplices was threatening her. James Hird, an ex-bail bondsman who was stripped of his license after a grand-theft conviction in 1997 but who continued to work in the business, allegedly tried to bribe Tomlin, and then threatened to keep her in jail to prevent her from speaking to investigators. Ares slapped Hird with a witness-tampering charge. Daniel Walker also voiced his concerns that strange men with walkie-talkies and suspicious cars were casing his house near Homestead. Miami-Dade authorities eventually put him under police protection for nearly two months. (Scaletti and Hird's exploits were reported here in Losing Teeth, Laying Blame, July 15, 1999; and Bail Bondsmen Behind Bars, August 19, 1999.)
Detective Ares eventually arrested Scaletti for beating Walker and charged him with two first-degree felonies. Prosecutors then added a racial-hate-crime enhancement for his slurs against Walker. Scaletti was looking at a possible life sentence. Reportedly he refused initial offers for a plea, gambling that prosecutors would reduce the charges against him. But when his trial began, his confidence started to waver.
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The first witness was a Miami-Dade police sergeant whom Scaletti called the night he went after Tomlin. (To avoid trouble most bondsmen alert police that they will be picking up a criminal defendant who has violated a bond agreement.) The sergeant testified that Scaletti called her back after catching Tomlin and declared, Can you believe that bitch tried to run from me?
The next witness was Tomlin, who saw Scaletti beating a prone, defenseless Walker and repeatedly hurling racial epithets. After that incriminating testimony, Scaletti's attorney announced that his client was ready to accept a plea bargain. A few days later, following a closed-door session in the judge's chambers, Scaletti was sentenced to 364 days in jail followed by two years of house arrest and ten years probation, plus $7500 restitution. Arrangements to cooperate with ongoing investigations were not made public.
But Scaletti is still terrified of being locked up in jail, which makes sense. A government witness who may testify against corrupt corrections officers could be in danger at the hands of those same officers. The source with knowledge of the case says Scaletti insisted on being placed in protective custody in a so-called safety cell. (According to a jail spokeswoman, safety cells are used to isolate vulnerable inmates -- police officers and informants, for example -- from the general jail population.) Corrections officials confirm that Scaletti is being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in west Miami-Dade, but would not say if he is in a safety cell.