WRAL Investigates

Ticket-fixing case involved some with previous DWIs

Posted April 20, 2009
Updated April 21, 2009

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— Some of the people whose cases were dismissed in an alleged ticket-fixing scheme have had run-ins with the law before and after their cases were dropped, WRAL learned after reviewing court records.

Six people, including former Johnston County prosecutor Cyndi Jaeger and former deputy court clerk Portia Snead, were indicted last month on charges that they altered court records and knowingly used illegal dismissal forms to get traffic cases against 37 people dropped.

District Attorney Susan Doyle asked the State Bureau of Investigation a year ago to look into the high rate of dismissed drunken-driving cases in the county. A WRAL investigation found that 46 percent of the DWI charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County.

Doyle said a tracking system installed in October 2007 found several discrepancies in cases that were scheduled for trial but had been dismissed months earlier.

Thirty-three defendants whose cases were part of the SBI probe involved alcohol-related charges, primarily DWI. Some of the defendants had alcohol levels in their system that were more than double the 0.08 level at which drivers are considered intoxicated in North Carolina.

Elmer Bonilla, for example, was found passed out behind the wheel on the side of Interstate 95 with the vehicle still in drive on April 8, 2006. State troopers charged Bonilla, 30, of 947 Webb Mill Road in Four Oaks, with DWI and reckless driving after he registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.2.

No reason was provided for dismissing the case against Bonilla in September 2007, according to court records.

Eleven of the defendants had been charged previously with drunken driving or have had subsequent DWI arrests.

Stephen Edward Watkins, 42, of 1788 Cleveland Church Road in Smithfield, had four prior DWI arrests dating to 1993, including one where he registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.22. He was found guilty in two of the cases, and the other two were dismissed, according to court records.

His July 2007 case was dismissed because the officer who charged him wasn't the same officer who stopped him, according to court records. Watkins added another DWI in 2008 after registering a blood-alcohol content of 0.19, and he was placed on probation for 12 months.

Blas Villalon Colchado, of 3199 Barber Mill Road in Clayton, had three previous DWI arrests in Johnston County. All of them were dismissed because a trooper or a witness couldn't show up in court or tests weren't completed.

His May 2007 DWI was dismissed because of discrepancies in the blood-alcohol tests, according to court records.

Colchado's sister-in-law said she thinks he paid his attorney, Chad Lee, $1,000 to handle his May 2007 DWI arrest and might not know that his case was illegally dismissed.

"I don't think my brother-in-law knows," Fabiloa Villalon said, adding that she doesn't think he ever went back to court.

The indictments show that 70 dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature were filed after she left her job in September 2007. The dismissal forms were filed for clients of the four defense attorneys charged in the case – Lee, Lee Hatch, Vann Sauls and Jack McLamb. Snead is accused of deleting the attorneys' names from at least two cases from the courthouse computer system.

The majority of the defendants were Lee's clients. He was once a Johnston County prosecutor and, in 2003, he convicted Watkins in a DWI case.

Watkins couldn't be reached for comment.

Other defendants also either couldn't be reached or declined to comment. Authorities said some of them could be called as witnesses in the ticket-fixing case.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was so concerned about the ticket-fixing allegations that the group plans to start a court-monitoring program in Johnston County this week, said Craig Lloyd, MADD's executive director in North Carolina.

"What (the program) does is go through and sees patterns. We have a database that looks for local, state and national trends," Lloyd said, noting MADD will also monitor cases in Harnett County.

27 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • ccacrabbitdog Apr 21, 2009

    "Shenanigans"..." so let me get this straight...just because leo or the prosecutors forgets to check a block or something like that, drunks should get off.....u people that think like that r part of the problem not the solution....

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 21, 2009

    This is an old problem. If you want to get out of a ticket, have your lawyer go to the court house and the DA will automatically change it to less than 10 over the speed limit so your insurance doesn't go up and you don't get points on your license. If you have time to waste, you can even do this yourself without the need for a lawyer. As long as the DA's reduce charges and judges give pjc's in court. The efforts of the traffic cops is a joke.

  • braddyg Apr 21, 2009

    "I'm going to pistol whip the next guy who says "Shenanigans"..."

    So, lvhv, if you were accused of a crime, you wouldn't want your attorney to do everything possible to try and absolve you of that crime? I don't like it either when clearly guilty people get off on a "technicality", but that just means that the LEO or the prosecutor or someone representing the state didn't do their job.

    To be punished for a crime, you must be found guilty of that crime in a court of law, and that court must grant due process of law along with the full complement of Constitutional rights.

  • thinkb4youspeak Apr 21, 2009

    "And shenanigans such as the continuance of pending DWI cases for years on end should be exposed. These are our tax dollars being wasted for the benefit to help enrich some corrupt lawyers. Ask any law enforcement agent. They see the trickery performed in the courtroom every day and they see the menace that is released back on our roads without any punishment. Disbar and imprison!!"
    lvhv2003

    Laughable and doesn't even deserve a response. How often do you see a LEO being fired/suspended/arrested for misconduct versus attorneys? And I'm guessing by "trickery" you mean upholding the constitution? And by the way, any decent "law enforcement agent" will tell you that defense attorneys have little to argue if the LEO does his/her job right. Instead of being so concerned about what the attorneys are doing, your "agents" should focus on doing their jobs correctly.

  • braddyg Apr 21, 2009

    Ah, GoGreen...it's been a while. I've spoken to attorneys, an assistant D.A., and even a couple of LEOs who all indicated it's fairly common knowledge officers rarely ever actually observe a suspect for the prescribed time required by law. By the same token, the courts usually don't accept that as a defense because it is difficult to prove. Just because an officer is in the same room with the suspect doesn't mean they're actually observing them.

  • lvhv2003 Apr 21, 2009

    Here are the NHTSA statistics on 2007 alcohol related crashes in the US: 12998 fatalities in auto crashes involving the driver with a BAC of .08 or higher. This comprised 32% of total traffic fatalities in the USA last year. It decreased by 4% from 2006 when 13,491 people were killed due to drunk drivers. This is still inexcusably high. How many of these drunks who went on to kill, had beaten previous DWI charges.
    We should be monitoring every court in every county in NC, not just in Johnston and Harnett counties. The backroom deals among DWI lawyers, prosecutors, and judges need to stop now. And shenanigans such as the continuance of pending DWI cases for years on end should be exposed. These are our tax dollars being wasted for the benefit to help enrich some corrupt lawyers. Ask any law enforcement agent. They see the trickery performed in the courtroom every day and they see the menace that is released back on our roads without any punishment. Disbar and imprison!!

  • Travised Apr 21, 2009

    How many of these cases had ties to "the blue wall" or the court system? If they did, that tells you where the faults are.

  • GoGreen Apr 21, 2009

    baddyg sez'

    "officers routinely ignore the observation requirement and don't actually know if the suspect has done anything that might cause a higher-than-accurate reading"

    I challenge you to prove that.

  • thinkb4youspeak Apr 21, 2009

    Braddyg, thanks, you took the words out of my mouth regarding the observation period. When an officer is 20 feet away, filling out paperwork, there is no way he can tell if the person charged burps or vomits into their mouth (not vomit, but just into their mouth).

    Superman, good point about the person signing the dismissals being out of office, but when this type of form is used, the judge is not involved. DA's can dismiss cases out of court and have the clerk enter it (hence a clerk being charged). Happens everyday, as a matter of necessity.

    This whole thing brings up an interesting point. If the legislature would properly fund the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the entire justice system, AOC could have spent some money (less than $250,000) upgrading the computer system from the outdated DOS based system we currently use. This would allow for tracking of this kind of information and keeping better tabs on corruption.

  • braddyg Apr 21, 2009

    "Drunk drivers are responsible for KILLING 16,000+ people on US highways and injuring many, many more every year."

    First, I challenge you to prove that. You can't. But let's assume for just a second that you're right. If that's the case, sober drivers are responsible for killing the other 25,000+ people who die in car accidents, and injuring many more. What do you propose we do about them?

    "If THINKB4YOUSPEAK knows so much, he should know also that the "observation" period absolves the chance of mouth alcohol."

    If the observation period were properly maintained by the officers, then it would remove MOST of the chance of mouth alcohol affecting the readings. However, officers routinely ignore the observation requirement and don't actually know if the suspect has done anything that might cause a higher-than-accurate reading.

More...