On Friday, United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that two men had pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme carried out at the Orleans Criminal District Court. 68-year-old Rufus Johnson and 57-year-old Josephine Spellman pleaded guilty in the middle of trial for operating a long-running bribery and honest services fraud connected to Johnson’s bail bonds business in New Orleans.
Johnson has been sentenced to 74 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release. United States District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle has also ordered a forfeiture of $1.2 million and the property at 536-538 Broad Street. Spellman has been sentenced to 5 years of probation for his part in the scheme. Court documents show that Johnson ran an unlicensed bail bondsman service between 2003 and 2013.
Johnson accepted money from customers for getting Orleans Parish Prison inmates released in violation of state law. To avoid laws prohibiting unlicensed bail bondsmen, the defendants and others operated under licenses and contracts belonging to paid employee bail bondsmen. Simultaneously, certain employees with the Orleans Parish criminal justice system accepted bribes to help the defendants release inmates on their own recognizance or to provide and alter information in the protected computer system.
In some cases, the corrupt officials agreed to make false certifications on official bond documents. The defendants paid cash to three deputy clerks to obtain documents and information from a protected computer system utilized by the criminal justice system. That information was helpful for the bail bondmen, who were attempting to seek post bonds and address bond forfeitures.
The clerks also provided Johnson with official bail bonds, which has been signed and certified by a bond clerk. In return, this allowed Johnson to sign the name of his licensed employees without their knowledge or involvement. Johnson also paid kickbacks to a deputy clerk at the Criminal District Court who worked at CINTAP. Between 2008 and March 2010, Johnson provided the clerk with names of pre-trial inmates. The clerk subsequently created false paperwork and entered false information to have the inmate released on a recognizance bond.
In many cases, the inmate’s family members had paid John to help get the inmate released on bond. The clerk was paid between $6,500 and $15,000. Bribes and kickbacks totaling roughly $95,000 and $150,000 was paid to other public officials. The scheme was uncovered in 2010. At that time, Johnson and Spellman worked together to try to obstruct the investigation. For instance, employees were ordered to tell investigators that Johnson worked as a janitor and had no role in selling or negotiating bonds.
The two defendants subsequently lied to FBI agents in separate interviews. Johnson has been sentenced to 74 months in prison, while Spellman will serve 5 years of probation.