NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Police arrested 25-year-old Lance Lewis in May of this year. Investigators say he raped a woman inside an apartment on Chef Mentur Highway. A judge set his bond at $5,000 on a third-degree rape charge. Four days later, a man named Joshua Cox bonded Lewis out.
Cox manages an organization called the New Orleans Freedom Fund.
“My appreciation is that funds are donated to them, and they some how determine who they are going to post bail for. They use those funds to post cash bonds, and when those cases are completed they get their money back and it frees them to bail more people out,” says Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
The New Orleans Freedom Fund is an organization that bonds people out of jail. It’s a practice that has Goyeneche concerned.
“This is a high-stakes game. I think it makes a bad situation even more troublesome and problematic from a public safety prospective,” says Goyeneche.
When police arrested DeQuan Ayers for distribution of marijuana, the New Orleans Freedom Fun bonded him out. Ayers failed to show up in court twice and police recently re-arrested him after officers say he beat and robbed a tourist in the French Quarter.
“It certainly doesn’t surprise me, because those defenders didn’t have any financial exposure. They basically got out of jail for free. A third party posted their bail. It’s not their money, it’s not the offender’s money that is going to be forfeited. It is the Good Samaritans or the Freedom Fund that is going to lose their money,” says Goyeneche.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro points out that when an outside agency posts bond, the defendant has no incentive to return to court.
“Look, the things that we are most interested in is that when someone post a bond, they show up in court and certainly we understand that is one of the purposes for bond, to ensure the person’s presence for court,” says Cannizzaro.
We reached out to members of the New Orleans Freedom Fund for comment, but they have not returned our calls. FOX 8 examined court records that show at least two members of the fund, Jennifer Schnidman and Joshua Cox, signing the bond papers to get people out of jail.
Cox is an attorney and also a member of Mayor Latoya Cantell’s administration as the director of Strategic Initiatives. A law enforcement source tells FOX 8 that since February of last year, both Schidman and Cox posted 374 bonds valued at nearly $300,000 for suspected criminals.
“Question number one for me would be how do they chose among the people who can’t make bail, who they are going to supply the bail for? If I were running that organization, I would want to have some sense of who I’m bailing out,” says Joel Friedman.
Tulane Law professor Joel Friedman says there’s nothing wrong with helping poor people post bond, but he says it’s important to know that person’s criminal history.
“Because as we’ve seen we had one horrible situation of somebody they bailed out and when they were out they committed another very serious crime. There are never any guarantees, but where’s the due diligence? I mean they shouldn’t be going around giving out get out of jail free cards,” says Friedman.
Cannizzaro says there’s evidence through statements made in open court that the Orleans Public Defenders Office is deeply involved in determining whose bail gets paid. When we asked if the Public Defender’s Office was providing the New Orleans Freedom Fund with the names of people who needed bond money, they responded with this statement:
“Bail does not make us safer, it simply penalizes poor people. We are not safer because the millionaire got out and the poor person remained jailed. We will continue to work with community toward comprehensive reform.”
Meanwhile, Cannizzaro says he has enormous concern for what’s happening.
“We have to keep in mind, the public defenders have a duty and responsibility to their client and their client only. They are going to do what is best for their client. They are not going to be concerned about the community and they are not going to be concerned about public safety,” says Cannizzaro.
We reached out again to the New Orleans Freedom Fund to find out more about what they do and why they do it, but we have not heard back.