If you get arrested anywhere in Miami-Dade County, chances are you'll end up spending the night at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, or TGK, near Miami International Airport. But a quick Google search for TGK will take you not to the Miami-Dade County's official website, where you can deposit money into an inmate's account or find visitation times, but to a nearly identical website for a bail bonds company called TGK Bail Bonds.
The site copies everything about the government's inmate search page, save for the big "Miami Bail Bonds" banner at the top. Confused? Yeah, it's meant to be that way.
"This is something we've actually been dealing with for a couple of years," says Juan Diasgranados, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation (MDCR). "This person has actually done this before, and we filed a complaint and settled it in court. They were told not to do it again and not to use 'TGK.'"
The TGK Bail Bonds website is registered to Rolando Betancourt, a bounty hunter and bail bondsman whose escapades hunting down a molly trafficker were documented in the Gainsville Sun three years ago. The banner at the top of the page displays two phone numbers, both of which were answered by TGI Bail Bonds when called by New Times. One is the same phone number listed on the website for another bail bonds company, Bail Yes. And all three — TGI Bail Bonds, Bail Yes, and TGK Bail Bonds — are registered to Betancourt.
"I own and develop websites for clients," Betancourt wrote to New Times. "I believe TGKbailbonds.com is part of a batch of bulk transfers that I recently acquired. Many of these domains came with old html sites attached to them. I am in the process of updating these old sites."
Criminal justice reform advocates have long claimed the money bail system allows bondsmen to flourish by disproportionately harming communities of color and low-income residents, who struggle to bail out loved ones when even minor offenses like possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis come with a hefty $1,000 bond. A reform bill went before the state Legislature in March, but Florida politicians rejected any move away from the money bail system.
Nationally, a movement against the system has been growing, though. In May, Google banned ads for bail bonds services.
"Studies show that for-profit bail bonds providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable, including through opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years," wrote David Graff, director of Global Product Policy.
Those problems can be even worse when a company confuses prisoners and their relatives by looking like an official service of the county.
In 2016, MDCR filed and later won a complaint against TGK Bail Bonds with the Florida Department of Financial Services for violating a state statute prohibiting bail bonds companies from choosing a name that implies a connection to a government entity, Diasgranados said in a statement emailed to New Times.
Though Betancourt is listed as the registered owner of the websites, Miami businesswoman Patricia Fernandez owns the company, according to records from the Florida Division of Corporations.
TGK Bail Bonds and Dade County Bail Bonds are among dozens of bail bonds businesses Fernandez has operated in South Florida, along with Bail Bus, the more colorfully named Conchs & Cons Bail Bonds, Surety Investigation Group, Bail by Phone, Magic City Bail Bonds, Bail Bonds Girls (home to yet another questionable website also registered to Betancourt), and Florida Keys Bail Bonds. Fernandez is also listed as one of the directors of the Miami-Dade Bail Association.
When New Times called the phone numbers listed on the TGK Bail Bonds website to inquire about the website and the complaint from MDCR, one bail agent named Arlety said, "We get a lot of calls here, hun. I don't have time for this," and declined to provide a last name or a way to get in touch with Fernandez.
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A bail bonds agent named Vanessa answered the call for the second number listed on the TGK Bail Bonds website. She repeatedly insisted their website looks nothing like the MDCR inmate search page and said she would pass the message on to the owner. Asked further about TGK Bail Bonds' site's resemblance to the government inmate search page, Vanessa said, "Every bail bonds office does that. I don't know why you have such a hard-on for it."
New Times looked at dozens of other Miami-area bail bonds websites. They don't copy county websites.
Additional calls to other numbers listed for Fernandez went unanswered; her voicemail box for every number associated with her name was full.
"MDCR does not condone or approve the use of its facility acronym (TGK) and will take all appropriate steps as necessary to protect its trademarks," Diasgranados said. "This website is in no way affiliated with MDCR. Visitors are encouraged to visit our website."