Defendants hear indictments in bail-bond case

10:00 PM PST on Friday, December 14, 2007
The Press-Enterprise

SAN BERNARDINO - More than a dozen people, including the son of former San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell, appeared in court Friday a week after they were indicted on charges involving the bail-bond industry.

Their arraignment was delayed until Feb. 22, when all 15 are scheduled appear in a downtown San Bernardino courtroom.

Most of the defendants indicted Dec. 6 by a special criminal grand jury were charged in January 2004 following a two-year district attorney investigation into illegal kickback schemes among bail-bond companies.

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According to the indictments, the defendants were based in San Bernardino County and worked for Boone's Bail Bonds, Arzate Bail Bonds and the Bail Hotline. Most of their charges involve unlawful solicitation, conspiracy for unlawful solicitation and filing false or forged documents.

Danial Blayne "Boone" Tidwell, 53, appeared earlier Friday before Superior Court Judge Colin Bilash. Tidwell's wife, Shirley Tidwell, 47, appeared with the other defendants Friday afternoon. She declined to comment afterward.

John Barnett, attorney for Shirley Tidwell, said later that his client was not surprised by the indictment as the same allegations had been made in the criminal complaint.

"Our position is they committed no crimes and they'll be vindicated," Barnett said.

In court, Bilash told Shirley Tidwell that she could continue staying with her husband in Wyoming while the case winds through the courts.

"Do not miss anything," Bilash said. "If you're not in court, I will revoke your (release)."

Tidwell's other son, Steven Wayne Tidwell, 59, accepted a plea agreement in February 2004 and agreed to surrender his bail-bond license and testify for the prosecution.

Almost 30 people were charged in connection with the bail-bond investigation in 2004. More than a dozen eventually accepted plea agreements. Many of those who fought the charges were indicted last week.

Their cases remained stagnant in the courts after almost four years of delays during numerous courtroom appearances, and they never completed a preliminary hearing.

Deputy District Attorney Bill Lee, the third prosecutor on the bail-bond cases, said four years is an unusual amount of time to pass without a preliminary hearing.

"It was difficult due to the logistics of so many attorneys," Lee said.

In a preliminary hearing, a judge decides whether there is enough probable cause to send defendants to trial. Defendants, in open court, get a chance to cross-examine witnesses.

Grand juries are secret, but 12 of the 19 grand jurors are needed for indictments, Lee said.

Lee said he spent five days in late November and early December presenting his evidence before a grand jury specially empanelled to hear this case.

"This was a way of getting past the initial stumbling block, which is prelim," he said.

The indictments said almost three dozen witnesses appeared before the jurors.

Attorney Don Jordan criticized the district attorney's office for seeking indictments instead of waiting for a preliminary hearing. He said the defendants wanted to cross-examine their accusers.

"My opinion is that is an abuse," he said. "They had all this time. We were counting on having the advantage -- which is a big one -- of a preliminary hearing process in this complex case."

"The truth of the fact is the delays were not caused by the defense," Jordan said. "Several of the (prosecutors) had no interest in the case. They did nothing."

In June 2003, authorities executed 13 search warrants as part of the investigation. Fourteen weapons were found at Danial Tidwell's home in Phelan.

The haul included two rifles reported stolen from the Fontana Police Department in 1999, two machine-gun pistols banned under the California assault-weapons ban and a rifle and a shotgun belonging to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The weapons were connected to former Sheriff Floyd Tidwell, who served from 1983 to 1991.

He was sentenced in November 2004 to three years three years unsupervised probation on four misdemeanor charges related to concealing those 14 weapons. He paid $10,000 in restitution.

Reach John F. Berry at 909-806-3058 or jberry@PE.com

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