Investigation reveals bond forfeiture revenue not collected because of glitch in paperless system

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A 41 Action News investigation has revealed that Kansas City's Municipal Court has not collected any bond forfeiture revenue for almost a year.

Court officials say they are working to fix the problem, which they attributed to a compatibility issue with the new paperless technology implemented at the end of August 2011.

When someone uses a bondsman to get out of jail, the company is on the hook for the full bond amount if the defendant doesn't show up for court and can't be located.

However, at Freedom Bonding, LLC in downtown Kansas City, owner Bart Cooper said he and other bondsmen have noticed the Municipal Court has not been asking for that money.

"I would be frustrated if I lived in Kansas City," said Cooper, explaining the forfeiture component is what keeps the bond process accountable. "The bonding companies have no real incentive to spend money to go out and locate defendants."

After receiving a tip, 41 Action News filed a Sunshine request to see bond forfeiture amounts collected by the court before and after the paperless transition to the Regional Justice Information Service (REGIS).

In the two years prior to the change, the Municipal Court collected more than $219,000. In the past year, the revenue total is $5,248. No money has been collected in the past 11 months.

According to court officials, the new system was not compatible with Kansas City's bond forfeiture process.

"The court decided that the best course of action to take would be to suspend bond forfeitures temporarily until the court could review the bond forfeiture process and develop a sustainable remedy," communications manager Ellen Belzer said in an emailed statement. "The court wanted to get a permanent solution to the problem rather than a quick fix that may not have completely resolved it."

Councilman John Sharp, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the news took him by surprise.

Sharp said the new paperless system has been a positive change overall, both for increased efficiency and money saved by eliminating full-time positions.

However, he is surprised the situation has remained unresolved for nearly a year and nobody from the court told city leaders about the glitch.

"I wish we had known some of this without having to hear it from the media, but that's what the media if for," Sharp said. "I'm glad we know it now."

Several bail bond companies told 41 Action News they have noticed some companies seizing the situation as free money.

"They are not really concerned about risk. They are not really concerned about accountability," Cooper said.

Cooper said he has not changed his business plan since the glitch surfaced. He is keeping enough cash in reserves to pay for all forfeited bonds over the past year, just in case the collection notices start showing up in the mail.

When questioned why it has taken so long to make a fix, Belzer said the court has taken its time to study the issue. A new bond forfeiture process will be considered by the Court en Banc when it meets next week.

Upon approval, the new process will be implemented as soon as the computer software can be amended.

Even though Cooper and other bondsmen said it would be unfair to collect forfeited bonds that are several months old, Belzer said the court intends to retroactively collect forfeitures from the past year.

This is not the first glitch uncovered by a 41 Action News investigation.

In May, a report revealed that a large number of parking tickets were showing up as "unknown" in the system. It turned out that parking enforcement officers did not have software on their handheld devices that had out-of-state driving records.

That glitch has since been corrected, according to court officials.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook .

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