Crime & Courts

Judge gives lesser sentence to bondsman in city computer scheme

When handing out a sentence in federal court, judges announce what they think the punishment will be. Then the lawyers are free to argue for something different.

Usually, that doesn't change the judge's mind. But it did Friday morning.

It wasn't what her lawyer said as much as what Jessie Garland told the judge that made him cut her prison sentence by more than half, giving her a year and a day in prison.

Garland, a 43-year-old bounty hunter and bail bondsman, was the third person sentenced in a computer scheme that cost the city of Wichita more than $400,000.

Although Garland was the only one of the three that U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten sent to prison, he did whittle some 18 months off what he originally intended.

"You moved me today," Marten said after hearing Garland's apology.

Two other women, bondsman Alicia Bell and former municipal court collections officer Kaylene "Katie" Pottorff, were given five years' probation.

Garland faced prison because she had a criminal history that showed repeated run-ins with the law, the judge said.

In their pleas, the women admitted Pottorff used her position at the city to falsify court records to keep Garland and Bell from having to pay forfeitures for people who skipped out on their bonds and didn't show up for court dates.

Pottorff admitted she removed defendants' names from bond lists used by the city to collect bond forfeitures.

Garland and Bell also admitted using the lists to get paid by surety companies for finding defendants who were actually arrested by police or were never caught.

All pleaded guilty as co-conspirators to altering city computer records.

Garland said she didn't do it for personal benefit.

"My intentions were to help other people take care of their things," Garland said through tears. "I knew what it was like to be afraid to go to court."

But Garland questioned why her convicted co-conspirators didn't have to go to prison, as she would.

"I have to answer for the things I do, but I feel this is a bit unfair," she added.

Jeff Griffith, Garland's attorney, said the women started out small but their scam escalated.

"She and Katie and Alicia did not appreciate the seriousness of their conduct when they began," Griffith told the judge.

Marten agreed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson did not.

Anderson said his office would seek permission from the U.S. Solicitor General to appeal the sentence. He had also objected to the probation given Pottorff on Thursday.

"In our view, they don't address the seriousness of the crimes or provide a deterrent to anyone," Anderson said.

Marten ordered Garland to pay $163,200 in restitution,

Pottorff, 54, was ordered to pay $469,525 — the total of losses to the city. Garland's payments and Bell's restitution of $185,125 are considered their share of the losses.

Marten ordered the payments to be made "joint and severally." That means any payments Garland and Bell make will reduce Pottorff's obligation.

Anderson said he did not object to probation for Bell, 37, because he said she had given information to the FBI that may lead to charges against other bondsman.

With good-time credit, Garland could be out of prison in about 10 months. She will serve another three years of supervision by the U.S. probation office.

Griffith noted judges don't often reduce sentences.

"In my experience, that's a rare occurrence," Griffith said. "But I think Jessie really spoke from her heart, and it made a difference."