Bond trials delayed after lengthy motion filed

— Trials for two Naples bail bondsmen charged with soliciting business inside the county jail were delayed Monday after a defense attorney filed more than 100 pages of documents in an effort to dismiss the case.

Collier Circuit Judge Frank Baker reset the cases of Joseph Houston and Juanita Williams for next Monday, when Williams’ defense attorney, Robert Pelier, will argue that motion to dismiss. Houston owns Liberty Bail Bonds in Naples and Express Bail Bonds in Immokalee, which is managed by Williams.

Williams and nearly a dozen supporters, including Houston’s mother Emma, and Dr. Christine Vedrine, pastor of the International Healing Deliverance World Outreach, left court with hope that their legal problems would soon end.

“I told them, ‘When there’s wrongdoing, God will shine his light upon them,’ “ Williams said of her vow to sheriff’s investigators who arrested her and Houston. “The bomb got dropped on them today by my attorney. They set the trap for Joe and I and they fell into the trap.”

Baker reset the trial and hearings after Assistant State Attorney James Molenaar said it would take time for him and Mike Hedberg, legal counsel for the sheriff’s office, to review the 52-page motion filed by Pelier, who attached 50 pages of exhibits.

The Florida Department of Financial Services has suspended Houston’s and Williams’ licenses pending the outcome of the criminal cases, which ended in their arrests in 2007.

They’re charged with permitting a felon to act as a bail bond agent and allowing someone to act as a bail bond agent without a license, in addition to soliciting business inside the county jail by making deposits into inmates’ commissary accounts, which are used to purchase items such as snacks and toiletries.

Evidence includes taped phone calls from inmates to their bond offices, and videotapes of an employee making bank deposits into their commissary accounts. And several defendants already have accepted plea bargains in return for their cooperation.

Meanwhile, Houston has been in the county jail since Wednesday, when the judge granted the prosecution’s motion to revoke bond. The revocation was caused by the arrest of one of his employees in June, which violated conditions of his bond.

Houston’s defense attorney, Donald Day, said he will file a writ of habeas corpus Monday with the Second District Court of Appeal to determine whether bond should have been revoked. That type of emergency appeal involves unlawful detention.

Day contends that because Houston’s license was suspended, he was not a bondsman and could not have violated bond laws that prompted the revocation. But Department of Financial Services Spokeswoman Nina Banister said a suspended bondsman would still fall under that statute because the license has not been revoked.

Williams contended she knows the laws inside out. “I haven’t broken any laws,” she added, denying any wrongdoing and blaming Mary Minor, a competitor who operates Mary & Jimmy’s Bail Bonds with James Baier, for all their troubles.

Williams contends Minor’s husband of 16 years, Jamie Minor, began the investigation into Houston’s firms while assigned to investigate crimes inside the jail, but retired before the arrests.

Minor, however, denied Williams’ claims and added: “The truth will come out.”

The motion to dismiss wasn’t immediately available, but Pelier said he’d sought records from the sheriff’s office under public records laws and asked for evidence of any other bondsmen or firms investigated for possible violations of the bond laws Houston and Williams were charged under.

“Not surprisingly, as I suspected, the only ones that were subject to arrest were my client and Joe Houston,” Pelier said after today’s hearing. “When personal gain clouds an investigator’s motives for an investigation, we need to expose that bias.”

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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