Inmates say man cheated them

Investigation targets his pretrial offers

May 16, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

It sounded promising: Ronald J. Davis offered to get the inmate a bail-reduction hearing and spring him from the Anne Arundel County Detention Center. So Richard K. Hopkins, charged with burglary, felony theft and lesser crimes, made sure his girlfriend got the $300 Davis demanded as a fee.

A month later, Hopkins is still in jail, waiting for his trial, which is scheduled for tomorrow.

Predictably, with three failures to appear in court and six convictions on his record, Hopkins' efforts at pretrial release flopped. But he said Davis told him he was a promising candidate for house arrest and held out hope for the freedom Hopkins desperately wanted.

He has tried to call in recent weeks but has found that Davis' telephone has been disconnected.

"He told me everything I wanted to hear. I feel really gullible," Hopkins said. "The money I paid him I could have used to pay a real lawyer."

Hopkins is among the angry inmates who allege that Davis, 30, of Millersville and Legal Assistant Services, the firm on his letterhead, fleeced them. How many inmates Davis contacted is uncertain.

The lawyer for one inmate informed the state Attorney Grievance Commission, which at the end of last month filed a complaint in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court accusing Davis of practicing law without a license, a misdemeanor.

Jail officials turned over three inmate complaints to county prosecutors, who began inves- tigating last week, and at least five defendants had Davis' signature on their rejected requests for second bail hearings.

Inmates speculate that many among them feel victimized.

"If he ever comes in here, they better put him in p.c. [protective custody]," Hopkins said.

Besides the company on his stationery, Davis appeared to be the point man in a now-defunct Glen Burnie company, Maryland Pretrial Services, that was seeking to profit from charging accused offenders fees for home-monitoring before their trials. Private home-detention businesses do that for a fee, and the county does it free.

About three weeks ago, District Judge James W. Dryden advised Davis and his companies not to send more requests for second bail reviews, saying they smacked of the illegal practice of law.

Free programs

Like most counties, Anne Arundel has a jail-house program to assess whether people accused of crimes are good candidates for pretrial release and under what conditions. County staffers make recommendations to judges. Those who lack money to pay for programs ordered by the court, such as drug testing, can get them free.

Davis sought $25 for a prerelease assessment interview from a man who obviously could not be released because he had been sentenced, said William Martin, assistant director of the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, who oversees pretrial services at the jail.

Besides, Martin said, getting pretrial help "is not predicated on do you have $25. The system is not predicated on whether you have the money."

Martin barred Davis from the jail last month. He said he was uncomfortable with what he had seen of Davis' work and knew that Alan Friedman, the Anne Arundel County public defender, was upset about the possibility that his office's clients had revealed things about themselves to someone who had no responsibility to keep them secret.

The Howard County Detention Center has let Davis in -- to await trial on bad-check charges.

Davis, who was given one year's probation before judgment in January in Anne Arundel Circuit Court after pleading guilty to passing a bad check to an Annapolis gun dealer, has been charged in three warrants with fraudulent check-writing in Anne Arundel County. He also is accused of passing bad checks in Baltimore.

More check charges may be in the offing. Anne Arundel County police are sorting through what they say appears to be thousands of dollars in bad checks. The neighbor Davis invited to be a partner in Maryland Pretrial Services says he is one of the victims.

Partner cleared

The company, which opened last month, is out of business. Police have cleared the neighbor, Robert A. Houston of Millersville, of wrongdoing, said Anne Arundel police Sgt. Tim Zywiolek.

"Twenty-eight thousand dollars he has cost me," Houston said of Davis.

He said Davis approached him this spring with what sounded like a sure-fire venture, given the booming field of home-detention and house-arrest monitoring.

The first he learned of county-run pretrial services was from a talk with Martin this month.

Houston now operates a cleaning service.

Sun staff writer Del Wilber contributed to this article.

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