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May Bail Bond Agents Solicit Bail for Co-Arrestee?

There is an unfortunate stereotype, perpetuated continuously by movies and fiction novels, of bail bond agents being unethical and possibly funded by organized crime.  We at Greg Hill & Associates do not deal directly with bail bond agents, but when we have had conversations with bail bond agents at an arraignment or after a motion for reduction of bail, we have found bail bond agents to be exceptionally ethical and honest.

Nonetheless, there are some bail bond companies that fall short of such standards, as the following summary describes.
Brief Synopsis: A bail bond company cannot ask a defendant to post bail for a co-defendant unless the co-defendant asks the bail bond company to do so and in the following case summary, co-defendant did not ask the bail bond company to do so, so the bail bond company had to pay back all bail bond payments received from the defendant for the co-defendant.           
In 2014, Lana Sieu Ngu hired Thuc Ngoc Pham as a temporary employee at her store in downtown Los Angeles.  Two months later, police arrested Ngu for selling fireworks and Pham for possession of fireworks.

Ms. Ngu called City Bail Bonds for help in posting bail and City Bail Bonds did so two days later.  Ngu was then released from custody while her criminal case was pending.  Pham, however, could not post bail and remained in custody.

On the day that Ngu was released, City Bail Bonds called Ngu and suggested that Ngu post bail for Pham to incentivize Pham not to testify against Ngu.  City Bail Bonds even told Ngu that if she “did not secure a bond for Ms. Pham, there was a danger that Ms. Pham might testify against” Ngu. 

Ngu refused to post a bond for Pham.

Ngu was not familiar with California law on this issue, but California Code of Regulations, Title 10, §§ 2079, 2079.1 and 2080 address this proposed course of action.  Section 2079 prohibits bail agents from soliciting bail “except . . . from: (a) An arrestee; (b) The arrestee’s attorney; (c) An adult member of the arrestee’s immediate family; or (d) Such other persons as the arrestee shall specifically designate in writing.”

Section 2079.1 provides, “Any solicitation of an arrestee himself pursuant to Section 2079 (a) shall be only after a bona fide request for bail services has been received from the arrestee or from a person specified in Section 2079(b) or (c).”

Section 2080 provides that, “No bail licensee shall negotiate concerning bail, except with (A) A person specified in Section 2079; (B) Any other person who without previous solicitation on the part of the bail licensee has requested the bail licensee’s services.”

The day after Ngu refused to post a bond for Pham (and pay City Bail Bonds their fee for doing so), City Bail Bonds called Ngu again and repeated their advice to post a bond for Pham. 

Ngu refused again.  In response, City Bail Bonds said they would call Robert Hsu, Ngu’s former attorney, to ask his opinion about whether Ngu should bail out Pham.

City Bail Bonds then called Ngu and said it had arranged a meeting between Ngu and Hsu.  Ngu agreed to meet with Hsu.  When she arrived at Hsu’s office, two employees of City Bail Bonds were already there.  Attorney Hsu then suggested Ngu post bail for Pham because if Ngu were found guilty, she faced eight to ten years in state prison.  Attorney Hsu suggested Pham would be a key witness in such a trial.

Finally, Ngu told City Bail Bonds that she did not have the money to post bail for Pham, which was set at $500,000.  City Bail Bonds’ fee would be $40,000.  City Bail Bonds then agreed to a series of payments, but Ngu would have to pay $20,000 up front.  Eventually, Ngu agreed and a bail bond was posted for Pham.  The total sum that Ngu agreed to pay for Pham was $38,666.

In the criminal case that followed, both Ngu and Pham agreed to deals and each were give probation.  Ngu pleaded no contest to possession of a “destructive device” (Penal Code § 18710).  Pham pleaded no contest to possession of “unaltered dangerous fireworks” (Health & Safety Code § 12700(b)(3)).

Ngu then sued City Bail Bonds for restitution of the amounts she paid for bail for Pham.  The complaint alleged City Bail Bonds engaged in unfair competition by violation of California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 2079, by soliciting bail from a co-arrestee.

The judge, David S. Cunningham, held a bench trial and found City Bail Bonds had violated § 2079 by soliciting payment of Pham’s bail from Ngu.  The court entered judgment in Ngu’s favor and awarded Ngu $38,666 in restitution, plus costs and attorney fees.

City Bail Bonds appealed the judgement to the California Court of Appeals for the Second District in downtown Los Angeles, which found no error in Judge Cunningham’s rulings or the judgement he ordered.

We offer this summary as somewhat of a cautionary tale, but cannot help but wonder if both Ngu and Pham would have received no custody time and just probation if Ngu had not posted bail for Pham.

The citation for the Second Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is Lana Sieu Ngu v. City Bail Bonds (2nd App. Dist., 2021) 71 Cal. App. 5th 644, 286 Cal. Rptr. 3d 550.

For more information about solicitation of a bail bond and other bail issues, please click on the following articles:
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