Former Wake court clerk details bond fraud scheme
Posted August 18
Raleigh, N.C. — A former Wake County court clerk tearfully described Thursday a long-running scheme to get bail bondsmen out of paying thousands of dollars in forfeited bonds owed to the courts.
Kelvin Ballentine is the main prosecution witness in the fraud trial of Ronnie Smith, one of three bondsmen charged in the alleged scheme, which authorities said cost the Wake County Public School System about $1.5 million.
Authorities said electronic court records were falsified in 307 cases between 2008 and 2013 to reflect that the bondsmen had paid bonds for criminal defendants who failed to show up in court when they had not.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who was clerk of Superior Court at the time, said she quickly pinpointed Ballentine as the source of the problem after one of her assistants pointed out irregularities in the bond records.
"I would enter in motions to set aside (bonds) without supporting documentation, knowing that, without that, the system would automatically enter in, automatically strike the forfeiture," Ballentine testified.
Ballentine said Smith and two other bondsmen paid him cash to falsify the records.
"I don't really know the total amount over the whole time period, but I would get paid in increments, some $1,000, some $500," he said. "Even though I was a full-time state employee, working with the clerk's office, I didn't get paid that much. I had medical bills and (was) trying to go to school at the time. I saw it as an opportunity to try and take care of that."
Another bondsman introduced him to Smith, Ballentine said, and they would meet at restaurants or Smith's office several times a year to swap a wad of cash for a list of cases to be altered in the court records.
Defense attorney Craig James said in his opening statement Wednesday that it was the other bondsman who ran the scheme and that Smith was actually the person who helped authorities uncover it.
Freeman fired Ballentine once she learned of the fraud, and she called in the State Bureau of Investigation and local prosecutors to investigate.
Two other bondsmen, Kenneth Golder and James Perkins, and former court clerk Latoya Barnes have been convicted in the case. Ballentine still faces charges, but he said he doesn't have a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against Smith.
"Being escorted out of a place I worked for 14 years, it's taken a toll," Ballentine said. "I wish I could go back and not do it. It wasn't worth it at all."