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York County bail bondsman suspended, accused of planting fake list in jail

A local bail bondsman is suspended from doing business in York County, pending a review by state officials into a claim that he tried to get an edge over competitors by planting a forged list of bail bond businesses inside the county detention center.

Jay Adams of A-1 Adams Bail Agency and Adams Bail Bonds is accused of hand-delivering to the detention center the fake list, according to a York County Sheriff’s Office report. The alleged incident happened on Nov. 5.

The York County Clerk of Court Office – which oversees bail bond companies in York County – was immediately notified and Adams was placed on suspension about one week later, Clerk of Court David Hamilton told The Herald last week.

The sheriff’s office investigated and earlier this year passed the case to the York County Solicitor’s Office. Kevin Brackett, the 16th Circuit Court solicitor, said his office will not press charges. A sheriff’s office report saysthat while criminal charges will not be filed, prosecutors noted “ethics violations.”

Next, officials say the investigation will move to the South Carolina Department of Insurance, which oversees licensing and regulation of the state’s bail bond industry. Adams has an active license, not under suspension, in South Carolina as a professional bail bondsman, according to department records.

Only the state Department of Insurance can take action against a bail bondsman’s license. County clerks of court are empowered by state law to suspend a bondsman from doing business in their respective counties under some circumstances.

Adams will likely remain on suspension in York County until state officials have a chance to review the incident, Hamilton said.

Adams’ attorney, Tom McKinney, declined to discuss specifics about the incident but said he and his client have cooperated with all officials looking into the allegation.

In nearly 20 years in business, Adams has had “not a blemish on his record,” McKinney said. Hamilton agreed, saying Adams has had a “good, clean record until this event occurred.”

Hamilton’s office put Adams on suspension “due to dishonest practices,” according to an email sent on Nov. 12 to nearly 35 local government officials, including Rock Hill and York County jail and court staff. The email did not include details of the allegation that Adams tried to have jail officials post an erroneous list of bail bond agencies.

A list of those agencies is provided to inmates in the jail. Detention centers are not required to provide such a list but York County’s clerk of court compiles and distributes the list as a service to help people who have been arrested find professional, licensed bondsmen.

Adams is accused of forging the Clerk of Court’s letterhead and attempting to have the fake bail bondsman list distributed inside the jail, according to the sheriff’s office report. A supervisor at the detention center noticed that the list had abnormalities, and she reported it to the Clerk of Court’s office, the report states.

It appears the list was never posted at the jail.

Hamilton said the fake list had erroneous information for some bail bond agencies, such as non-working phone numbers, and Adams’ businesses were listed in slightly bigger and bolder fonts. The list, Hamilton said, appeared to be designed to put Adams’ competitors at a disadvantage.

Soon after, Adams was told he could not conduct business at the detention center and that he was suspended until further notice, the incident report states.

A competitive business

Other bail bondsmen were told of the incident about one month later during a meeting with two staff members from Hamilton’s office. That meeting was called, Hamilton said, to dispel rumors about the incident.

He said the county Clerk of Court’s office has appropriately handled the situation and subsequent suspension. Officials acted swiftly, he said, to stop damage from being done.

McKinney says the three months that Adams has already spent on suspension in York County is severe punishment. It has impacted his client’s ability to make a living, he said.

Adams is not barred from doing business in any other county. And, Hamilton said, he’s still able to finish handling bonds for clients he backed before the suspension.

Adams has not yet been able to appeal the disciplinary action because the state Department of Insurance has not yet opened an investigation or made a decision about his license, McKinney said.

State officials are aware of Adams’ suspension but the Department of Insurance cannot review the case until county officials forward documentation, said department spokeswoman Ann Robertson.

If the department conducts an investigation, she said, records related to the findings will be considered public once the investigation is over. Department of Insurance officials can revoke, suspend or refuse bail bondsman licenses under state law.

Among the reasons state law gives for a bondsman’s license to be suspended or revoked is if a licensed bondsman conducts “fraudulent or dishonest practices.” Other reasons relate to the financial dealings of bonds and the prohibition of bail bondsmen referring their clients to specific attorneys or soliciting for business in court or jail facilities.

The Department of Insurance largely has regulatory powers over licensed bail bondsmen in South Carolina but can refer cases to the state Attorney General if criminal activity is suspected, Robertson said.

Hamilton and McKinney both said that the bail bonds industry is highly competitive and highly regulated.

Ethical issues involving York County bail bondsmen arise several times a year, Hamilton estimates. Sometimes, he said, an act can be unethical but not deemed criminal.

He added that sometimes bail bondsmen get “a bad rap” but they provide an important service to people who are accused of crimes. When inmates have the ability to bond out of jail while waiting for a trial, he said, the county saves money by not having to house and feed them.