- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Four more people have been indicted on charges of conspiring to write illegal bail bonds in Orleans Parish.

The federal indictments, issued Friday, charge Rufus Johnson, his son James Johnson, former bondsman Perry Becnel and former Rufus Johnson employee Josephine Spellman with 10 counts of conspiracy and lying to a grand jury.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1DGFMfG) the indictment replaces earlier charges against Rufus Johnson, whom federal authorities put at the scheme’s center.

So far, the investigation has resulted in charges against 11 people, including three former employees in Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell’s office. Several of the defendants have pleaded guilty, beginning with the March 2011 plea of Gilishia Garrison, who was working for both Morrell and Orleans Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office when she took bribes to access court computers and forge recognizance bonds for some inmates.

Authorities say Rufus Johnson was writing bonds illegally by using licenses of others while paying off court clerks for favors including access to information and illegal inmate releases. In August, the 65-year-old Johnson was disqualified as a candidate in the 2nd District congressional race for failing to pay state ethics fines, is named in seven of the counts in the indictment released Friday.

“I’m not aware of it. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment,” he said Friday by phone.

According to the indictment, James Johnson lied to an FBI agent when he said his father’s job at a bail bond company across the street from the Orleans Parish criminal courthouse, involved “cleaning the offices, sweeping the floors, emptying the trash cans” and other menial tasks.

James Johnson also was a state-licensed bondsman from 2000 to 2010, and federal authorities accuse him of abusing his authority by working as both an attorney and a bondsman for criminal defendants, while also serving as the agent of an insurance company backing the illegal bonds.

James Johnson, 36, referred questions Friday to attorney Pat Fanning, who said he hadn’t yet seen the indictment and couldn’t comment.

Becnel, who lost his bonding license in 2007, allegedly had an agreement in which he brought bonding business to Rufus Johnson and kept about half of the bondsman’s share - about 5 percent of each bond - for his efforts. He also is accused of paying Garrison and others to get recognizance and parole releases for his customers, according to the indictment.

Another previously charged ex-bondsman, Willie Irons, is accused of a similar arrangement with Rufus Johnson, according to the indictment.

Morrell, the court clerk, said late Friday that the alleged crimes couldn’t be prevented.

“The system works fine, but you cannot monitor what they do on their own time, for what they’re thinking in their minds,” he said. “It’s just people doing things, and no one can tell what’s happening until it’s been done.”

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, https://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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