WARREN - When Warren Law Director Gregory V. Hicks was identified as a potential ''wrongdoer'' in a big money civil racketeering lawsuit, the plaintiff's attorney cited Hicks' office withholding evidence in a liquor permit battle that would have been detrimental to one of the defendants in the racketeering lawsuit.
According to records the Tribune Chronicle obtained, favoritism from Hicks' city law department may have been extended to another defendant in the civil Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations lawsuit.
The newspaper has uncovered instances in which employees of a Warren bail bonding company, and the owner himself, who is a defendant in the civil RICO suit, may have acted outside of Ohio bail bond laws. It also appears Hicks' office had knowledge of the actions.
A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Insurance said the agency's Fraud and Enforcement Division is reviewing the matter. The Department of Insurance governs the bail bond industry in Ohio.
Also found were peculiarities in how Hicks' office handled the closing of a bar located in a building owned by the bail bondsman.
Attorney Richard Goodman filed the RICO lawsuit in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Sunrise Inn owner Ken Haidaris. The lawsuit names Bob Cregar, owner of All American Big Bob's Bail Bonding, Joseph Sankey Jr., a former Big Bob's bail bondsman who owns a building across the street from Sunrise Inn, and LaShawn Ziegler, who operated Sunset Lounge inside Sankey's building.
The lawsuit claims Cregar, Sankey and Ziegler conspired to ruin the Sunrise Inn. Later, during an exchange of information with one of the defense attorneys, Goodman listed Hicks as a potential ''wrongdoer'' based on the law director's office not presenting evidence against the Sunset Lounge during a liquor permit hearing with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. That evidence - dozens of police calls and a murder - may have damaged Sankey's ability to keep the liquor license.
Hicks said his name appearing in relation to the RICO lawsuit is ludicrous. He also vehemently denies that he or his office has given special treatment to any person or bond company.
The Tribune found a Nov. 6 police report that states two men identified as ''Bob Crager'' and ''Jim King'' apprehended a woman in her Jefferson Street S.W. home. According to the report, the nature of the call was a woman being forcibly taken by ''Crager.'' The man listed as ''King'' used a chain saw to cut off the door, according to the report.
The next day, police spoke with assistant city prosecutor Nick Graham, who works for Hicks, and ''he advised ... the Bail Bond (sic) company has every right to enter the house,'' according to the report. The woman is believed to have been fugitive whose bond was posted by Big Bob's.
Graham said he determined that as long as a licensed bail agent made the apprehension at the woman's residence and if the agent had police permission to go after her, the matter was lawful.
Neither Cregar nor anybody named Jim King were licensed as bail bond agents. It also appears that police were not notified before the apprehension was made.
Only police officers, licensed private investigators and surety bail agents in Ohio can apprehend, detain or arrest a person on bond. Licensed bond agents, under the law, must also inform police in the jurisdiction where the arrest is being made.
Paperwork Big Bob's provided to a court does not list Jim King, but it does include James Keen as an agent authorized to write bonds on behalf of the company. Keen was not a licensed bail bondsman when the woman was apprehended, nor is he now, or was he when Cregar provided paperwork to the court saying Keen is authorized to write bonds for Big Bob's.
The woman arrested and Cregar's attorney, Martin F. White, last week provided a different account of the event.
Pamela Lorraine last week said her boyfriend let Cregar, Keen and Ed Drennen, who according to the state is a licensed bail agent, into her home that she and her boyfriend rented from Cregar. Lorraine said she willingly allowed Drennen to handcuff her and take her to jail.
The police report does not list a third person at the home.
Lorraine and White also dispute that a chain saw was involved. White said that is ''completely untrue.''
Lorraine said a relative called police after she was taken. Lorraine said the relative was at the home while the boyfriend was on the phone with another bond agent, Tom Cool, owner of Thomas Cool Bail Bonds in Warren, whom the boyfriend called about bonding her out of jail. It was during this conversation, Lorraine said, that Cool told the boyfriend he believed Lorraine had been abducted.
Lorraine said Cool urged the relative to call police. Cool said he told Lorraine before the incident that if Cregar or Keen came to the home to arrest her, that she should call police ''because they were not licensed and could not arrest her.''
Hicks' office has not filed any charges for falsifying a police report.
The Tribune found a police report from Oct. 16 that says Warren officers detained Randy Kaigler on South Feederle Street S.E. because he fit the description of a man who threatened three others with a rifle-type gun.
Kaigler - wearing tactical pants and boots, a bulletproof vest, a bail officer's badge and handcuffs - told police he was trying to locate a fugitive for Cregar's bail bonding company. According to the report, Kaigler told police he did not have a bonding license and that Cregar told him he did not need a license. Kaigler said he would be paid $600 if he picked up the wanted fugitive, according to the report.
Kaigler told police he ''observed'' other employees of the bonding company identify themselves as U.S. marshals and wear clothing similar to clothing worn by U.S. Marshals Task Force members.
Police consulted with Hicks' law department about filing criminal charges, but that's where the case stops.
A search of its records by the Ohio Department of Insurance, which licenses bail bond agents and bail bond agencies in Ohio, failed to produce any credentials for Kaigler. He was not then, nor is he now a licensed surety bail agent in Ohio, according to the department.
Cregar's attorney described Kaigler as a ''locator,'' someone who knows the community and gives tips on the location of fugitives. Kaigler had ''no authority at all to what he did,'' and he misrepresented himself as an authorized agent of the bonding company, White said. Still, Hicks' office has not filed charges.
White said Kaigler never was an agent for Cregar's company and after this incident, Cregar never again used Kaigler as a locator.
Peter Elliott, U.S. Marshal in Ohio's Northern District, said impersonating a federal marshal could be prosecuted as a federal crime. Impersonation does not happen often, but when it does, it ''definitely hinders our job'' and hurts community trust in the agency.
''That is probably the biggest thing out there, if people are there fraudulently saying they are a U.S. Marshal, that's a hindrance to our agency,'' Elliott said.
Hicks, ''having no knowledge of either instance,'' said he spoke to both assistant prosecutors after concerns arose. In both instances, Hicks said, his prosecutors independently determined neither case had the evidence to proceed.
Hicks said there was ''no direct involvement'' on his part other than to follow up when concerns were raised.
He also maintains that he never provided favoritism toward Cregar when Hicks had his private law practice in a building owned by Cregar. Concerns about their landlord-tenant relationship first surfaced many years ago when city safety forces and Cregar were in a dispute over parking violations.
Hicks said he moved from the North Park Avenue space in January of this year to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Another matter involved the closing of Benji Brown's, a bar formerly on Warren's North Park Avenue in a building owned by Cregar.
The city in April 2008 filed a nuisance complaint in court against people associated with the bar - Ziegler, his management company and Cregar - based on complaints of noise, fights and gunshots. A judge ordered the building closed and boarded.
The nuisance abatement, however, did not stand because of a technicality. Soon after, the city agreed that it would be OK for Cregar to lease the building to another bar owner.
Hicks wrote in an email that his office ''has never shown favoritism'' to ''any individual or bonding company on any matter'' and ''each and every case is reviewed and decided on ii's (sic) own merits.''
White said there is no favoritism and ''the idea of preferential treatment is crazy.''