A New Orleans bail bondswoman was charged in federal court Monday with paying off an Orleans Parish criminal court clerk to let an unlicensed bondsman use her name, forge her signature and illegally sign bonds for criminal defendants.
Tynekia Buckley, 41. was charged in a bill of information, a clear indication she has signed a plea deal and is cooperating with investigators.
The unlicensed bondsman’s name does not appear in court records, but sources and documents indicate he is Rufus Johnson, a former bondsman who let his license lapse in 1989. Johnson, who played a key role in the release of notorious Uptown crime don Telly Hankton on a $1 million bond in 2008, before Hankton allegedly killed another man a year later, has been the target of a years-long probe by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and later the feds. He is believed to be at the center of a federal investigation into bonding practices that has been running for years.
Buckley and the unnamed bondsman allegedly conspired with former part-time court clerk Lear Enclarde to allow him to write bonds. Enclarde, 68, pleaded guilty in June to federal fraud charges related to the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Enclarde’s job, according to federal court papers, included certifying that a bail bondsman had the proper power of attorney allowing him to act on behalf of an underwriter. Bail bondsmen must be licensed by the state Department of Insurance, but “Bail Bondsman A” wasn’t, the documents say.
Johnson let his bonding license lapse in 1989, then applied again in 2003 but failed to complete the paperwork, according to the state Department of Insurance. He tried again last year, but was denied because he’s a convicted felon.
Buckley and the unnamed bondsman also were accused of giving cash and other valuables to Gilishia Garrison, a former assistant bond clerk, persuading Garrison to release criminal defendants from the Orleans Parish jail illegally. Garrison, who was charged with four counts of computer fraud in early 2011, received a two-year prison sentence last year for her role in the scheme.
According to the bill of information filed Monday, Buckley and Bail Bondsman A — presumed to be Johnson — had a relationship dating to 2002. Buckley got her bondsman license in 2004, but took her orders from the bondsman, the bill of information states.
The bondsman owned the building at 538 S. Broad St., across from the criminal courthouse, the document says, and Buckley allowed him to use her name, forge her signature and generally operate as a bondsman.
Online property records show that a company registered to Rufus and Virginia Johnson, Ja Ru Va Inc., owned the Broad Street building until 2011, when it was sold to another company.
Garrison was accused of using her status as an employee of both the criminal court clerk and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to manipulate the computer system and forge recognizance bonds for criminal defendants for money. Only judges are permitted under the law to issue recognizance bonds.
Another unlicensed bondsman, Willie Irons Jr., also pleaded guilty in 2012 to paying off Garrison. Irons pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy count. Irons had not been a legal bondsman since 2003.
According to the bill of information against Buckley, she and the unnamed bondsman, along with “others known and unknown to the United States Attorney,” gave cash and other items to Enclarde between May 2003 and July 2008 “in exchange for her willing and knowing ignorance.” Later, in early 2010, Buckley, the unnamed bondsman and others gave cash to Garrison for the scheme, the bill says.
But it says that Enclarde knowingly ignored her official duties to allow Bail Bondsman A “whom she knew to be unlicensed” to forge Buckley’s name on bonding documents to secure the release of defendants at least 10 times from 2004 to 2008.
The bill also details how Garrison got a pair of defendants released in January 2010 by forging judges’ signatures on release orders, and several communications between Garrison and Bail Bondsman A on the same dates.
According to the bill, Buckley deposited $1,680 into her bank account over two days around the time of those release orders. The bill seeks forfeiture of any monies taken for the scheme. It does not say how much Enclarde received for her work.
Interviewed by phone on Monday, Johnson said he was last interviewed by the feds at least six months ago, and that he had “no idea” whether he is a target of the probe.
He acknowledged working in the same office as Buckley, but declined to describe their working relationship.
“I’m not going to disclose all that information,” he said.