Lawsuit Accuses Bad Boys Bail Bonds of Pressuring Co-signers Into Illegal Credit Contracts

When Kiara Caldwell bailed her friend out of jail, she had no idea it would turn into a years-long nightmare of incessant harassing phone calls, threats and litigation.

Now she’s fighting back.

Through a class action lawsuit filed this week in Alameda County, the 31-year-old receptionist challenges San Jose-based Bad Boys Bail Bonds for locking people into illegal credit contracts that leave them drowning in debt.

Elissa Della-Piana—Caldwell’s attorney and legal director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Bay Area chapter—called the class-action case the first of its kind.

“We think this is the first consumer class action against Bad Boys—or any bail company in California, for that matter,” she tells San Jose Inside. “We’ve been representing so many individuals in cases where Bad Boys didn’t follow the law, and we’ve just seen so many of them that we thought class-action would be the best approach.”

If a defendant can’t afford their own release, companies such as Bad Boys offer to pony up on their behalf in exchange for a non-refundable fee that usually amounts to about 10 percent of bail. Caldwell’s lawsuit filed Tuesday charges the bail bonds giant of violating consumer protection laws by deceptively putting cosigners on the hook for the full premium in “credit bail” contracts requiring monthly payments.

Officials from Bad Boys Bail Bonds—a South Bay firm founded in 1998 by C. Jeffrey Stanley, an ex-bounty hunter with a penchant for in-your-face marketing tactics—have yet to return multiple requests for comment.

Had Caldwell known what she was getting into, she says she would never have signed the contract Bad Boys presented in the hours after her friend’s June 21, 2018, arrest.

Word is Bond

The ordeal began when a bail bonds agent phoned Caldwell about her close friend—someone she considered a sister—booked on a shoplifting charge. A security guard taking classes at Chabot College at the time, Caldwell says she had little cash to spare.

But she says  she knew her friend had no one else to turn to.

So, she showed up to the Bad Boys Bail Bonds’ Oakland branch to meet the guy who called her. The agent told Caldwell that authorities set the friend’s bail at $5,000 and he’d need $1,000 to get her out from behind bars.

Caldwell offered to cough up what she could: $500. Since Bad Boys refused debit payment, the agent directed her to walk down the street to pull out cash from an ATM.

The agent proceeded to bombard Caldwell with paperwork, she says, asking for info about her job, her family’s phone numbers and the make and model of her car. With no experience with bail bonds, Caldwell complied, though she says she felt rushed and just wanted to jump through all the hoops to free her friend.

“This whole thing, from start to finish, took about 15 minutes,” she recounts.

At no point did the bond agent explain Caldwell’s obligation as a cosigner for the full premium of $4,5000, per the complaint. She says she had no clue that the $500 was considered the first installment of a monthly payment plan.

When those payments came due, she says, the collectors were relentless.

“They started making the calls all the time, calling my mom, calling my job, calling all the time nonstop,” Cadlwell says in a phone call. “Then I got sued, which put even more stress on me. I didn’t—and I still don’t—have this type of money to even give them. If I did, I would’ve paid them just to go away.”

Many people on the receiving end of those phone calls eventually feel that way.

“These contracts are signed at the most vulnerable moments of people’s lives, when a loved one is incarcerated and—in addition to how important that person is to them—they’re also often a breadwinner or a childcare provider,” Della-Piana explains. “To leave them in jail would cause a lot of terrible ripple effects. That’s a lot of pressure. And many people in that moment don’t realize they’re signing up for a debt they can’t afford.”

Often a cosigner only finds out about their obligation once the debt collectors come calling, which Della-Piana says they do at all hours and using tactics explicitly banned by consumer-protection laws. They call friends and family and employers, she says. They threaten to go after people’s cars and homes.

“Then there’s the way Bad Boys, among other commercial bail companies, go after these debts,” she says. “They do so in a way that pretends to have the weight of the criminal justice system behind them. The implied threat is that people will go to jail if they don’t pay up, which makes people make incredible sacrifices of rent, of food, of healthcare expenses that their families need to survive.”

Kiara Caldwell, 31, is taking Bad Boys to court.

Creditor Checks

Recognizing that cosigners to consumer credit deals can be confused or misled about their obligations, California has enacted robust disclosure requirements for lenders.

Under Civil Code Sec. 1799.91, a company must inform cosigners of their liability under a credit contract. The notice must be spelled out either right above the space reserved for their signature or on a separate sheet of paper.

The law even mandates specific language and font size for the notice, which must explain that the cosigner is expected to guarantee the debt if the borrow does not and should think carefully before they accept that responsibility.

The disclosure must alert the cosigner to the fact that they will also have to pay late fees or collection cost, that they risk litigation and wage garnishment and that a default could become part of their credit record.

If a creditor falls short of those transparency requirements, state law prohibits them from enforcing the contract at all.

The class action claim filed for Caldwell says Bad Boys eschewed those legally required disclosures as a matter of course. And when those cosigners fall behind on payments, the company often takes them to court.

That’s what they did to Caldwell. Bad Boys sued Caldwell exactly a year ago, demanding she cough up the $4,500 in addition to late fees and other costs. The lawsuit, however, gave her the resolve to take the matter to court.

How many consumers fell prey to the scheme described in Caldwell’s case remains to be seen, but Della-Piana says she expects to find out from electronic court records and Bad Boys Bail Bonds’ internal databases.

Anecdotally, she says she has reason to believe the number of victims is in the several thousands and that the South Bay bail bonds firm has been rushing people into legally dubious credit deals since at least 2015.

Della-Piana’s branch of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights has been helping people fight their credit contracts for the past few years through a designated bail clinic. Though existing consumer protections should prevent the kind of fraud outlined in Caldwell’s case, among others, she says she hoped state legislators would refine those laws by clarifying their application to the bail industry.

Thankfully, she says, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge determined those laws applicable to commercial bail, which opened the door to a countersuit against Bad Boys. A class-action, Della-Piana says, would simply apply that ruling more broadly.

Even if Californians end cash bail by passing Prop. 25 on Nov. 3, Della-Piana says that won’t necessarily stop collectors from going after cosigners for ill-gotten credit deals.

“Our fear is that if it passes, with all this outstanding debt, those bail companies could accelerate efforts to collect it unlawfully,” she says. “It’s possible they’ll make a last-ditch effort to squeeze as much money as possible out of this industry while they still can.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]ronews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

14 Comments

  1. I have gone thru the exact samething but for me since my friend couldn’t make the monthly payments so I took him to jail and was incarcerated…now bad boys sent bounty hunters looking for him and charged me for the services when I’ve told him multiple times he’s in jail that I don’t understand why I should be paying bail for someone thats locked up. My understanding of a bail is ur paying for ur freedom no…..and them harrasing me wit phone calls till 9 pm even calling my job asking them a lot of questions about me. As well as hand delivered paperwork to my job house even my dad’s house that’s that I don’t even k ow the address to or ever lived there

  2. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I always assumed everyone was aware that co-signing for a loan made you liable for the loan. What else would be the point of co-signing. It’s funny how this article doesn’t mention that the reason she owes this money is because her friend skipped her court date.

  3. So maybe sue your deadbeat best friend who needed bailed out?

    You thought they would accept $500 on a $5000 bail and that’s all you were agreeing too? Maybe you shouldn’t be entering into contracts if you don’t know how they work.

    How many thousands of bonds has this company provided? If they were doing something illegal, they’d have been run out of business years ago.

  4. Omg! Everyone wants something for nothing. It is your responsibility when you sign a contract to honor it, or deal with the consequences. That what a contract is for. Maybe you should educate yourself on business. Do you think you could stay in your house if you didn’t honor the contract, or keep a car, etc. The bail bond companies get a bad rap. Most people don’t have cash bail to pay the jail for release, so you pay the state regulated fee to the bsil bond company to get out, while being responsible for the full debt of the person until they go to court and get the case settled. If the defendant/ person does not go to court, the court wants the full bond paid. If the person handle their business and go to court, the bond becomes forgiven. Keep in mind the court is looking for that money from the bonding company that YOU OWE. That is why they are calling you. Handle your business, and deal with your ungrateful friend who put you in this mess. The bonding company helped you out. Tell the whole truth!

  5. So she paid $500 up front and owed the bonding company $500 more to complete the fee to the bondsman? They try to collect it because she’s not making her payments and now they are getting sued? I’m not sure how this is a legit story.

  6. Bottom line, pay your bail!!! If you co sign, that means your CO-SIGNING FOR THEM!!!! People want something for nothing. SMH….

  7. I’ve worked in Bail Recovery for over twenty years , the Bonds Agency is responsible to the court for the full amount of the bond, in this case $5,000.00, she paid 500 of the companies 1,000 fee, if her friend went to court and met obligations there she owes the other 500 if her friend skipped she owes 5,000, the Bonds Agency owes that money to the court and only has so long to pay it , in some states just 30 days, so yes they will continue to hound you for thier money , you signed the obligation, read your fine print always. There are states where the cosigner can be held in jail in lieu of the party for x number of days . Grow up and meet your obligations , you did it, I’m so sick of this damn entitled culture

  8. This story is obviously written by someone who favors an end to the cash bail system. The premium is normally 10% of the bond which in most instances is non-refundable. We are left to assume this person agreed to pay for the entire bond amount of $5000 instead of signing a promissory note and bail bond agreement. We are left to assume this arrangement was probably made because the person has a criminal history or has failed to appear to court appearances in the past which is why the courts didn’t release her on her own recognizance. If the person is ignorant enough to sign a contract without reading and understanding their liabilities, so be it. It’s nobody’s fault but their own. Whenever anyone is bonded out of jail using a bondsman, personal information is collected. It’s basically an insurance policy. As for the one who got arrested and the person is still being harassed, we are to assume that due to the person being arrested they failed to appear to court so the judge foreclosed the bond and the indemnitor, the person crying, is on the hook for the full amount. Moral of the story is don’t bond your friends out of jail if they’re not going to show up for each and every court date

  9. Good grief… Does this idiot not know what a contract is or what a co-signer is?? I mean if you cosign for the purchase of a car and the person you cosigner for does not pay… Guess what.. you owe the money . As a cosigner for ANYTHING , you are responsible for the completion of that contract. Period.

  10. I read the complaint. The exhibit to the complaint says that the bond is for $50K. 10% of $50K is $5K. The agreement was to put $500 down and pay the rest off in monthly payments.

    Maybe I read it wrong. Click on the line referencing the class complaint lawsuit.

  11. So many good points made by commenters… but one additional point: shoplifters are almost always cited for misdemeanor violations, minor offenders who do get booked are typically eligible for release on their own recognizance; evidence points to Kiara’s friend being a stone criminal (which in the sane world is recognized as a poor risk).

  12. If only there were a way for one to know if their friend my skip out on their bond…..hmmmm…what could be done? Perhaps being arrested for theft could be disclosed to the co-signer? wait…it was? …oh..well…it’s still not the cosigner’s fault….

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