Ex-bondsman at center of federal probe arrested

Rufus Johnson booked on racketeering counts

Rufus Johnson, a former bail bondsman who appears to sit at the center of a years-long probe into illegal bond-setting and kickbacks inside Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, was arrested Thursday morning at the bail bond office where he works, across Broad Street from the courthouse.

Johnson, 64, was booked into the Jefferson Parish jail on four counts of racketeering following his arrest before 8 a.m.

State Police participated in the arrest, on a warrant issued Nov. 26, although Trooper Melissa Matey, a spokeswoman for the state agency, declined to discuss the case. She said the arrest was part of an ongoing, multi-agency investigation that she described as a “federal, state and local partnership.”

The depth of the connection between Johnson’s arrest and the federal investigation into bonding practices was not immediately clear.

But so far, four people, including two women who worked for the Orleans Parish court clerk’s office, have pleaded guilty in federal court, admitting roles in a payoff scheme for illegal bonds.

Although he’s not named in any of the federal court documents, Johnson is clearly referenced in several of them.

Most recently, bail bondswoman Tynekia Buckley pleaded guilty on Nov. 27 to a conspiracy count related to the scheme. In the “factual basis” for her plea deal, Buckley, 40, admitted that while she worked as a bondswoman, she did so under the direction of unlicensed “Bail Bondsman A.”

Though he was unlicensed, Bondsman A used her license and personalized stamps with her name on them to file bond documents with the court, Buckley admitted.

She also admitted that she and Bondsman A paid off two clerk’s office employees, Lear Enclarde and Gilishia Garrison, and others for access to computer information on new criminal defendants who were likely to need bonds, thus gaining a competitive edge. Enclarde and Garrison, a former assistant bond clerk who also worked in the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, both have pleaded guilty.

Buckley and Bondsman A also were accused of giving cash to Garrison to get her to release criminal defendants from the parish jail. Garrison was sentenced to two years of probation.

The documents identify Bondsman A as owning the building at 538 S. Broad St. where Buckley set up shop when she received her state license in 2004. 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.

According to state insurance officials, Johnson let his bonding license lapse in 1989. He applied again in 2003 but failed to complete the paperwork. He tried once more in 2012 but was ruled ineligible because he’s a convicted felon.

Records show that Johnson, who has a federal drug conviction, played a key role in securing the release of alleged Central City crime kingpin Telly Hankton on a $1 million bond in 2008.

A year later, while out on bond, Hankton allegedly killed rival Jessie “TuTu” Reed while Reed was eating chicken on a porch on Terpsichore Street.

Hankton, along with a dozen family members and alleged cohorts, including his mother, Shirley Hankton, are named in a pending, 22-count federal racketeering indictment that includes allegations of four separate murders, including that of Reed. Telly Hankton is already serving a life sentence for his conviction on a state charge in one of those murders.