Former bond agent gets one year and a day in prison for bribery scheme

? A former bail bonds agent who admitted to bribing a court collections officer to alter bond records was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in prison.

Jessie Garland pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to impair a computer system. Prosecutors say she and another bond agent bribed a court officer to change records for people who skipped bail to save the agents from having to pay surety bonds. The loss to the city was estimated at nearly $470,000.

Garland, 43, sobbed at her sentencing as she told the judge she knew what she did was wrong, but she contended she never wanted to hurt anybody.

“My intention was to help as many people as I could because I knew how it felt to be afraid to go to court,” she said.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten told Garland that her narrative touched him, and he revised downward a tentative 30-month prison term he had earlier announced for her. He also ordered her to pay $163,200 in restitution.

Unlike the two other defendants in the case who have been sentenced to probation, Garland has a criminal history — a factor Marten said he considered in deciding her punishment. He said Garland’s sentence was not meant to reflect her “level of culpability” in the case.

Garland told the judge that she was upset she received a prison sentence when the two others received probation.

On Thursday, Marten sentenced former municipal court collections officer Kaylene Pottorff to five years of probation and ordered her to repay the city nearly $470,000 for altering court records.

Former bond agent Alicia Bell was sentenced in October to five years of probation after pleading guilty to bribery and ordered to pay $185,125 in restitution.

Garland’s defense attorney, Jeff Griffith, argued in court that his client and Pottorff were friends well before Pottorff got her job at the municipal court, and that initially both women were just trying to do each other favors in a process that grew into something out of control.

Griffith also said that Pottorff had been running a “cottage industry” of taking money from others not charged in the case to alter court records — an assessment that was also voiced in his client in court.

Griffith said after the sentencing that he was pleased the judge did make some modification to the sentence, noting such a move was a “rare occurrence” once a tentative sentence is announced in court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson said outside the courtroom that the investigation is ongoing, and acknowledged that there are “probably others out there” who were involved in the scheme given what was said in court. He said his office feels that Marten failed to take into account the seriousness of the crime.

The government had agreed with the initial prison sentence announced at the start of the hearing, but Anderson objected when the judge subsequently lowered it — calling the lower sentence “substantially unreasonable.”

The government also objected to the probationary sentence ordered in Pottorff’s case the day earlier. Prosecutors did not object to probation in Bell’s case given her early cooperation with the government, he said.