Thu, Dec 31, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Taking bail to the next level

In the US, wealthy people charged with serious crimes have the option of being bailed out — if they pay for the bail monitors

By Alan Feuer  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

If you had been looking closely during the criminal case of Bernard Madoff, you might have spotted a portly man with a gourmand’s jowls and a walrus mustache hovering just behind the defendant’s elbow on his various trips to court. Though dressed like a lawyer, he was not one; nor was he a prosecutor, a personal assistant, a limousine driver or a family friend.

His name is Nick Casale, a retired New York Police Department (NYPD) detective serving as a monitor in the latest iteration of that age-old institution known as bail. Casale, in short, was a state-sanctioned nanny, escorting Madoff back and forth from his penthouse to the courthouse to ensure that the world’s most famous fraudster abided by the strict conditions that got him out of jail.

“It was an almost military matter,” Casale observed proudly, sitting in his office, high over Madison Avenue, where Madoff’s bulletproof vest was, months later, still fetched up against the wall. Not only did the high-profile and high-paying babysitting gig rely on the assistance of several former NYPD cronies, it also required the deployment of a chase car, a digital voice recorder, a broadband wireless router, several metal door bars and a high-resolution, vandal-resistant Nuvico day/night camera — the one with the plastic dome and manual zoom lens.

It was, in other words, a drastic distance from the seemingly quaint alternatives of incarceration or release in advance of standing trial.

Bail, of course, is nominally the province of the government, but as with certain toll roads and various crucial functions of the military, it has lately seen a wave of privatization. Over the past two years, a handful of the hottest criminal cases involving the famous and the wealthy have led to the hiring of specialized Manhattan firms like Casale’s. Such firms, which also do private investigations and other security work, are stocked with retired city officers and former federal agents who tend to make the shift quite naturally from, say, protecting snitches at the Motel 6 in Scranton to watching over Wall Street cheats returned to their ample apartments.

But the new arrangements are complicated by several questions, including: Whom are the monitors really serving — the judge who devised the terms of the release or the defendant footing the bill?

“The client is the court,” said Ed Stroz, a former FBI man and a co-founder of Stroz Friedberg LLC, which took over the Madoff monitoring from Casale after several months. “This is not a valet service. This is like jail outside.”

Casale was not so certain.

“It’s a complex issue,” he said. Would you, as a bail guard, reprimand the man who signs your paychecks? Lock him in the bathroom? Tackle him if he ran out the door?

Then there are the sociological implications of letting the rich drop wads of cash on the sensitive scales of justice while criminal suspects of modest means languish behind bars.

“There’s no doubt about it: Privilege has its privilege,” said Casale, a broad, bearish man with a happy capitalist pluck. “The thing is,” he posited hypothetically, “I happen to own a body shop that specializes in Mercedes. So what am I supposed to say? That you can’t drive a nice Mercedes-Benz?”

When Marc Dreier was arrested last December in a US$400 million fraud case in which he sold fake debt to a number of New York hedge funds, his lawyer, Gerald Shargel, understood at once what he had to do. Dreier’s assets had largely been seized or frozen by the government and he lacked the cash or property to post a convincing bail. So Shargel, a creative legal thinker, reached deep into his playbook and suggested that his client be released into the custody of a team of private guards, paid for mostly by Dreier’s family.

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