Bond Bombshell

Debra Fosterís used to rounding up fugitives. Now sheís firing away at Montgomery County.

Shown a diagram of the relative chart positions over the 19-month period, Duewall said she couldn't reconcile it with the list she drew up. "I am not aware that this was happening," she said. "If this is happening, then it wasn't fair to Miss Foster." She wouldn't say that anyone had tampered with the list, however, and she said she did not know of any effort to give preferential treatment to some bonding companies.

Sherry Walls, the owner of 1-A Cash Back Bail Bonds, also complained about the list, but nothing ever happened. "I stopped complaining because it wasn't ever going to be fixed," she said.

Hittner seemed to grow even more concerned when testimony turned to the jail's computer. Edward Glynn, a computer expert who worked closely with plaintiff's attorney Dulcie Wink, said he found evidence that files had been destroyed. A file-deleting program called Shredder had been used on January 19, he said, which was days after the county had been ordered to turn over the computers to Foster's legal team.

Foster has the prime location for a bail bond business: 
across the street from the jail.
Daniel Kramer
Foster has the prime location for a bail bond business: across the street from the jail.
Sheriff Guy Williams on a promotional card
Daniel Kramer
Sheriff Guy Williams on a promotional card

Shredder was part of a software package called Steganos, which had been installed on the machine November 6, he said. That was one day after a notice was served to take the deposition of Roger Barlow, the independent contractor who runs the county's computer system.

"Based on the timing, I found it highly suspicious, if not sinister," Glynn said. Hittner ordered Barlow to show up the next day.

He did, and said he had spent $50 on Steganos in order to…help Debra Foster. Foster had been complaining that someone was hacking into the county computer to block her calls, he said; Steganos includes an antihacking program.

And why did he use the Shredder file-deleting program in January? To remove some personal files that he had stored on the computer, he said.

And what files needed to be deleted so urgently? Web site visits to No. The only thing he erased, Barlow said, was a program that allowed him to check the depth at his boat slip on an Arkansas lake. Nothing else was deleted, he said.

Of course, Glynn said, there's no way now to know what was deleted. Such as efforts to block calls to certain numbers from inside the jail.

Jay Aldis, the lawyer for Sheriff Williams, says he believes Barlow merely was anxious about having the one personal file on a county computer.

"The problem is that if it had not been Shredded, the expert would have just found readings for a personal boat slip and that would have been the end of it. They would not be able to make any hay of it at all. I think it's an absolutely legitimate explanation and that that's exactly what occurred," Aldis says.

During the hearing, defense attorneys argued that for someone who complains a lot about her phone, Foster was pretty lackadaisical about paying bills. She'd been late with payments 19 times in the past two years, and the phone was disconnected for nonpayment five times.

They pointed out that this was occurring while she was driving a 2003 Cadillac. They mentioned that in the listing of assets and debts she filed to renew her license, she failed to include the $400,000 loan from her mother to purchase her current location.

Foster says in reply what turns out to be, for better or worse, something that appears close to the truth: "I'm not a bookkeeper," she says. "I'm a salesperson, I'm a people person."

Phone bills? She doesn't generally pay them until she gets a warning letter or two. The phone was cut off "for an hour or so at most" each time, she says.

The $400,000 loan? "My mother said I could pay it back if I was making money, and I wasn't. She said, 'Don't worry about that until all this [litigation] is straightened out.' I just forgot about [listing] it."

The Cadillac? "I have other money than the bail-bonding business," she says, adding, "I wish."

Her bonding company, while not nearly as lucrative as some, still pulls in cash. She's averaged nearly $200,000 in bonds a month for the past year, the county says. ("We're not talking about a failing bond company," Assistant County Attorney Laechelin says. "We're talking about a thriving bond practice in Montgomery County.")

It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Foster is a bit casual about business. She has a sign out front saying she'll cash checks. She says it's for released inmates who receive small checks to replace the money they had on them when arrested.

"And they try to make out like I'm wrong because I don't have a license to cash checks," she says. "Well, I don't know what's wrong with helping those people -- I'm not declaring it as a profit or anything."

How can someone complain about check-cashing if she's not charging for it? "Well, I will charge them two bucks or so if the check's $30 or something," she says. Oh.

Those casual ways incense some other bail bonds people who say they strive to play by the rules. And Laechelin labels Foster's methods as ranging anywhere from "sloppy all the way to illegal."

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