Couple finds bail refund error a woeful windfall

DECIMAL POINT BLUES

April 21, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

After Edward Pinkney received a suspended sentence for possession of marijuana, he and his wife went to claim the $750 bond they had plunked down to secure his release while awaiting trial. Imagine their surprise when Baltimore court officials mistakenly cut them a check for almost $7,500.

"I thought it was a blessing straight from God," Mr. Pinkney said yesterday. "I was ecstatic. I didn't know what to do. I was running around like I was crazy."

Now, however, Mr. Pinkney is feeling more cursed than blessed. Circuit Court officials are threatening to prosecute if he doesn't repay the money, and he says he no longer has it all.

Mr. Pinkney's troubles began last July when plainclothes Baltimore police officers arrested him on drug charges. His bail was set at $7,500, but 10 percent down would gain his freedom. Mr. Pinkney said his wife posted the $750 bond.

After being found guilty of possession of marijuana last October in District Court, Mr. Pinkney received a one-year suspended sentence with six months of unsupervised probation. He appealed the conviction to the Circuit Court, but he withdrew that appeal, and on April 7 the sentence was affirmed.

With the case closed, the Pinkneys went to retrieve the bail money. But instead of getting a check for $742.50 -- the $750 less the court's 1 percent service charge -- they got a check for $7,425.

Mr. Pinkney, 32, says he and his wife didn't realize the error until they cashed the check at a bank.

"My wife started to say something. I nudged her and said, 'Be quiet,' " he said. "She was saying, 'Aw, baby, you have to take this back.' I said, 'We'll put most of it away in case they want it back.' I put $5,000 away, but before you know it $5,000 was $4,000 and $4,000 was $3,000."

He said he spent "a lot on bills and very little on a nice night out."

James G. Mertel, head of the accounting department in the court clerk's office, said he discovered the mistake Friday.

Court officials then sent a certified letter to Mrs. Pinkney -- whose name is listed as having posted the bond, but, according to her husband, is innocent of any wrongdoing -- demanding the $6,682.50 overpayment.

"If you fail to return the money the matter will be turned over to the state's attorney's office for prosecution," the letter states.

The Pinkneys met with court officials yesterday and paid $3,000.

Mr. Mertel said he has to go back more than a decade to recall a similar mistake. He said the Pinkneys are to return today to set up a payment plan for the balance, adding: "I'm going to request that he make good within five days."

Upset that court officials want their money so soon, Mr. Pinkney said he would raise the cash by borrowing from family and friends. With distress evident in his voice, he vowed: "I'm going to cooperate 100 percent with these people to get their money back."

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