“It would appear this inherently predatory industry is skirting the rules to try to make money in a situation where a lot of reform practices are changing the nature of their industry,” says Colin Starger, an associate professor of law who co-directs the University of Baltimore’s Pretrial Justice Clinic.
Maryland grants special power to collect debts like bail bonds. A bail company can go to court to collect what it says is an unpaid debt, and can obtain a “body attachment”—in effect, an arrest order for the person who owes the money. They can then be thrown into jail, which reform advocates have argued simply represents a modern form of debtor’s prison. Yet while the Maryland Insurance Administration regulates bail bonds, the state court system handles bail suits. As a result, bail-bond companies can sue to collect debts even when, as appears to be the case with BDBB, they aren’t licensed.
A bail bond is a little like an emergency surgery. When you’re in need of one, there’s a good chance you don’t have the time or capacity to spend a lot of time looking around. Many providers set up shop near courthouses for easy access to customers. Bail-bond companies in Baltimore also advertise aggressively; at some bars in the city there are pint glasses emblazoned with the logos of providers.
The Lawyers’ Committee earlier this month wrote a letter to Maryland judges asking them to dismiss all pending cases involving BDBB, and to prohibit enforcement of existing judgments. Braden said the court relied on February 16, saying it did not believe it had the authority to dismiss all the cases, and would consider them on a per-case basis. Braden said the Lawyers’ Committee disagrees, and will litigate cases if necessary. But on a broader level, Braden doesn’t think the decision should rest in the courts, either.
“We shouldn’t have to do this, because the MIA should have done something,” Braden said.
The MIA is involved—to a point. 4 Aces is currently licensed, but the MIA began proceedings to revoke 4 Aces’ license in October 2017. Among the MIA’s allegations against 4 Aces is that it was operating under unlicensed names and using unlicensed people to broker bonds. BDBB appears to be one of those unlicensed names. Not only did a call to 4 Aces lead to voicemail box for BDBB, but a letter from 4 Aces’ attorney, entered in court records, also said that BDBB is a trade name for the company. The letter was to inform the company that the attorney was withdrawing from representing the company because of the enforcement action and its failure to produce witnesses at hearings. (The law firm also did not respond to a request for comment.)
Nonetheless, the Lawyers’ Committee alleges, 4 Aces is continuing to use the courts to collect on contracts issued under the name BDBB. “We are in receipt of the letter and are reviewing it,” an MIA spokeswoman said via email. 4 Aces has a checkered past, even before the recent MIA license action. In 2011, then-4 Aces owner Milton Tillman Jr. was convicted of unlawfully operating a bail business without being licensed by the state. He was barred from operating a bail operation without prior consent because of prior criminal convictions. His son, Milton “Moe” Tillman III, pleaded guilty to hiding taxable income, but took over the company.