Wake DA testifies against bail bondsman in fraud trial
Posted August 17, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman was in the unusual situation Wednesday of testifying as a witness in a criminal case.
Ronnie Smith is accused of conspiring with a Wake County court clerk to falsify records in court computers, allowing Smith to get away with not paying thousands of dollars in forfeited bonds owed to the courts – money that would ultimately go to the Wake County Public School System.
"It comes down to greed," Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks told jurors in his opening statement. "Anytime you have a fraud case, it comes down to money. It comes down to greed."
Smith, who runs his own bail bond business in Smithfield, is one of three bondsmen charged in the alleged scheme. 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.
Freeman, who was Wake County clerk of Superior Court at the time, was alerted by one of her assistants in 2013 about "irregularities" in the bond process, and she turned the case over to local prosecutors and the State Bureau of Investigation.
"There were some red flags," she testified, going over a series of charts and spreadsheets for jurors to highlight where records showed bonds had been "set aside," meaning they didn't have to be paid, when there was no paperwork to indicate a judge had ordered the moves.
Freeman said she quickly focused on court clerk Kelvin Ballentine as the employee she believed worked with Smith and other bondsmen to falsify records.
"We told him what we had found. He made no statements to us. At that point, I dismissed him," she said.
Ballentine is now cooperating with investigators and is expected to testify against Smith.
Defense attorney Craig James said in his opening statement that it was Smith who alerted authorities to the fraud scheme and that another bondsman was working with Ballentine.
Two other bondsmen, Kenneth Golder and James Perkins, and former court clerk Latoya Barnes have been convicted in the case. Golder is still in prison.
The case against Ballentine is pending.
Authorities said the alleged scheme cost the Wake County school district $1.5 million.